Cuomo inks $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure act

Potent potable: Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the state's $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act Wednesday in Farmingdale.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Albany dove into water pollution once again Wednesday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo visiting Farmingdale State College to lay out a $2.5 billion plan to remediate and protect New York’s drinking water supply.

To raucous applause, Cuomo officially signed the state’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act, enacting what he called a “comprehensive, multifaceted action plan.”

In what has become a semi-regular occurrence, the governor elaborated on aggressive plans to clean up, and keep clean, statewide water supplies, including several programs focused directly on Nassau and Suffolk counties. He first noted the multi-billion-dollar Clean Water Infrastructure Act, including its Long Island components, during his annual state budget tour in January.

Gov. Cuomo: $2.5 billion package worth every drop.

In concert with state legislators, the plan has actually grown in the months since. It’s now a $2.5 billion effort – in January, Cuomo referenced a five-year, $2 billion investment – including several programs that answer the “especially urgent” need on Long Island, where water issues are compounded “because of the geography,” the governor noted.

“It’s all sand,” he said at Wednesday’s press conference. “Everything that’s spilled, all the rain, all the groundwater, it all goes right through the sand and accumulates in the aquifer, and there it sits.”

Cuomo also noted several specific problem areas, starting with the Northrop Grumman facility in Bethpage. When he first announced a $6 million state study to examine Long Island’s potable water supply in February 2016, the governor said that would include a hard look at the so-called Grumman Plume, a 3-square-mile chemical cloud lurking in the Long Island aquifer, said to have resulted from mid-20th century Grumman manufacturing processes.

“We know they dumped toxic chemicals into the groundwater over an extensive period of time,” Cuomo said Wednesday.

The governor also cited areas around Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach – where the common pollutant perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS, is known to taint the groundwater – and a number of landfills and federal Superfund sites “that are leaching into the groundwater.”

And that’s in addition to what Cuomo called an Island-wide saltwater intrusion problem, plus “old septic systems and cesspools that leak nitrogen and other pollutants.”

It all adds up to significant threats to the Island’s drinking water supply, and “if we don’t solve them, we’re going to pass them on to our children,” according to the governor. “So we’re going to focus on Long Island and Long Island’s unique challenges.”

Among the regional action items are efforts to “accelerate our plan for the Northrop Grumman site,” Cuomo told the audience at Farmingdale State, noting “we want a plan that has full remediation and containment of that plume.”

“We know the plume is dangerous,” he added. “We know the plume is moving. We need a plan to stop the plume, and we want to fund that from this $2.5 billion.”

Cuomo also noted a strategy to connect as many as 10,000 private homes near Gabreski Airport to public water systems, as well as ongoing investigations of regional landfills – including inactive garbage dumps – “to see if they are leaching into the groundwater, and if they are, we’ll need to remediate those as well.”

And citing a November 2016 decision by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that formally permitted the creation of the Eastern Long Island Sound Dredged Material Disposal Site – which receives dredged sediment from ports and harbors in Connecticut and New York and is, technically, in Connecticut State waters – Cuomo announced plans to file a lawsuit challenging the EPA ruling, which he termed “destructive for Long Island.”

Also part of the Clean Water Infrastructure Act: $10,000 grants for homeowners and businesses looking to upgrade older septic systems, plus $40 million for new sewage-treatment plants in Smithtown and Kings Park.

All told, Albany’s $2.5 billion water plan represents “a landmark investment in our water infrastructure,” Cuomo said, and one that will have “a significant impact on Long Island.”

“It focuses on local solutions and community government,” the governor added. “It’s not Albany saying what we should do. It’s communities saying, ‘This is where we need help, please partner with us.’”

Bottom line, according to Cuomo: “We’re not going to allow our people to continue drinking water that’s dangerous.”