OpEd: The Case for Water Recycling

water recycling
Getty Images

Ancient Rome pioneered the building of sewers that dumped effluent into nearby waterways — same as Nassau County is still doing. As a result, says John Turner, senior conservation policy advocate at Seatuck Environmental Association, the water table underlying Nassau is shrinking.

At least 85% of Nassau is sewered and from the sewage treatment plants on the north and south shores of the county this “highly treated wastewater” is sent via outfall pipes into nearby waterways and the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound. The centuries-old Roman system continues in Nassau.

What should be happening instead, says Turner, is for the “highly treated wastewater” to be used to fertilize golf courses and be “recharged” into the ground to keep stable the quantity of water — the sole source of potable water for Nassau residents.

With the water table, the underground aquifers, contracting, Hempstead Lake “has been called Hempstead Puddle,” says Turner, and Valley Stream the “Valley No-Stream.” Also affected have been other streams, waterbodies, and wetlands in Nassau.

And this also invites saltwater intrusion. Because of over pumping and pollution, Brooklyn lost its potable water supply. An upstate reservoir system was built that today serves New York City, but there’s not enough water in those reservoirs to also serve Nassau.

Seatuck Environmental Association, based in Islip, is now preparing a “Long Island Water Reuse Feasibility Study, A Blueprint for Water Reuse on Long Island,”according to Turner.

Not only water quality but water quantity is critical for Nassau and Suffolk counties, with their limited underground supply and only rainwater as the source of water for the aquifers.

Water reuse is now expanding in the U.S. and other nations. Indeed, there is a highly active organization, WaterReuse Association, which says: “The fundamental principle of water reuse is using the right water for the right purpose….Our efforts touch on every aspect of promoting water reuse to make it fit for purpose.”

About 25% of Suffolk County is sewered. It does have smaller treatment plants that recharge treated wastewater into the ground, but most of its bigger sewage treatment plants follow the way of Nassau — and ancient Rome — and discharge wastewater into nearby waterways, the Atlantic, and Sound.

Suffolk’s largest sewage plant, its Bergen Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Babylon, was built to send 30 million gallons of wastewater a day through an outfall pipe into the Atlantic. The wastewater from the county’s Southwest Sewer District is discharged into the ocean and the county has been pushing for new sewer systems to also send their effluent through the plant and into the Atlantic — including from Ronkonkoma in the middle of Suffolk.

A breakthrough in Suffolk, which Turner points to, is an upgrade in 2016 of the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant, and now its effluent is sent to the Indian Island Golf Course where it fertilizes the turf rather than, as was the practice, dumped into Flanders Bay.