On November 8, Patrick Halpin, Chairman, Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA), spoke at the LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) meeting to discuss what the authority has been doing to protect and improve Suffolk’s water quality. The meeting was held at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ronkonkoma.
As Chairman, Mr. Halpin said, he is responsible for hiring the most qualified people for the job and making sure they have the resources to get the job done while, at the same time, holding them accountable. Prior to serving in his current role, he was a New York State Assemblyman and Suffolk County Executive.
SCWA led the legal fight against gasoline companies that deposited MTBE into the water supply. As a result, the agency received $130 million from the decision which was used for remediation purposes. New York State Senator James Gaughran, who previously served as SCWA Chairman, told attendees that he introduced a bill that was signed into law allowing local water authorities to hold corporate polluters who contaminate the drinking water accountable and ensure the cleanup costs fall on the polluters, not the ratepayers.
“When you sue the company [for polluting the water], they change their way of operating,” Mr. Halpin said, adding that other water districts and authorities are starting to go after manufacturers of firefighting foams, which contain chemicals that can impact drinking water, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).
Mr. Halpin said the authority’s laboratory, which is federally certified and employs 40 people, constantly tests the county’s drinking water for contaminants. Last year, the lab ran 167,000 tests; its employees were able to determine the level of contamination down to parts per trillion. In addition, the lab tests for 400 compounds (250 more than required by federal law) and uses a patented methodology to test for PFOS and PFOA which is faster and more accurate.
The SCWA maintains 6,000 miles of water main, according to Mr. Halpin. The pipes, which are made of ductile material, were installed in the 1950s and have a lifetime of 200 years. The only times when the pipes need to be replaced are when a line is hit during construction, or when the ground shifts, whether from development or minor earthquakes. The authority has also put in place an advanced oxidation system which uses hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet light to remove 1,4 dioxane from the drinking water — the first-ever 1,4 dioxane removal system in the state.
Mr. Halpin said the agency has installed 45,000 feet of water main into Wainscott, but those challenges include bringing water into the Pine Barrens and trying to eliminate 1,4 dioxane from the water supply within seven years. Mr. Halpin also pointed out the long-term threats to Suffolk’s aquifers, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and the emergence of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants in the water.
The SCWA was founded in 1951 as a public benefit corporation. It serves 1.2 million people and is the largest supplier of groundwater in the nation. In addition, it has the lowest water rates in the U.S. and is rated AAA by two bond rating agencies, ranking SCWA as the top 1% out of 20,000 water suppliers nationwide. Its testing standards are more rigorous than what both New York State and the federal government require, making its potable tap water the best in the United States.
The authority monitors 586 active wells at 237 well fields, 64 storage tanks that collectively hold 68 million gallons of water and more than 38,000 hydrants. The average amount of water pumped each day is 210 million gallons; that number changes during the summer, with a peak pump rate of 470 million gallons a day, and during the winter, when it falls to 110 million gallons a day.
For more information, or for a list of upcoming events, call (631) 757-1698 or visit www.limba.net.