Earth Matters: How to safeguard Long Island’s aquifer

Earth Matters: How to safeguard Long Island’s aquifer

We know that living on Long Island is unique for many reasons.  A particularly significant one is that our water comes from underground.  We live above a system of underground pools of water, or aquifers, we access through a public well system which covers the island and is managed by local water districts.  To learn more about our aquifers, visit the U.S. Geological Survey page at

The water we take from the aquifers formed millenia ago (the oldest formed 80 to 100 million years ago) and we are using it up at a much faster rate than it can replenish itself. The process is rain falls, and if it lands on soil or a permeable surface, it may eventually find its way to the aquifer, adding to the water stored there. Worsening the situation is that we have polluted significant portions of this underground water to the point that it is not usable and we have to dig deeper to find safe, drinkable water.

Replenishing this water is key to maintaining a sufficient supply for all its users.  Of course, conserving water is also an important piece of what needs to be done.  Here are some ways to achieve both.

It’s that time of year when people have turned on their sprinklers and set the timers so that they run no matter what.  It may be raining and yet that sprinkler still comes on.  Inevitably it waters the street and sidewalk (and the unfortunate passerby) as much as it waters the plants and grass.  Consider installing a smart system that regulates when the sprinkler turns on according to the weather conditions.  Even better, don’t waste water on your grass.  Let nature take its course.  After a period of acclimation, most lawns will do just fine with regular rainfall and don’t need to be watered.  Certainly, the sidewalk and street don’t need to be watered.

If you’re committed to watering your lawn, consider installing a permeable driveway and patio.  At least the water from your sprinkler will then have a chance of making its way underground and to the aquifer rather than streaming down the closest sewer where it will receive a very expensive makeover to clean it sufficiently to safely be released to the Long Island Sound, if it hasn’t already evaporated.

Permeable pavement has a porous surface so that water, instead of running off, can seep into and through the pavement to reach the ground underneath.  Then it has the chance of making its way to the aquifer below.  Permeable pavement is made from concrete, open pore pavers or asphalt.  Under the permeable surface is a layer of rocks that serve as a natural filter to clear the water of pollutants as it journeys to the soil below.  An additional benefit of permeable pavement is that it does not get as hot as traditional paved surfaces, reducing the heat island effect of paved areas.

The heat island effect contributes to water shortages by increasing evaporation and thereby reducing further the water that can be absorbed by the land.  Permeable pavement also can be produced using recycled materials, reducing resource consumption and waste generation.  And, because the water can seep through the pavement, ice doesn’t form in cold weather, making it safer for people and animals to walk on it and eliminating the need to put down sand or salt.  While permeable pavement does require some maintenance to keep the pores from clogging, this is no more significant than the cleaning typically done to clear leaves and other debris from paved areas.

I know of one example of permeable pavement in Port Washington – the Bay Walk along Shore Road.  You wouldn’t have any idea that the pavement there is any different from any other pavement unless you observe it in the rain.  Then you will see that the water isn’t running off into the sewer but is seeping into the ground and replenishing the water underground so that we can continue to turn on our faucets and get water to drink and wash.

One final suggestion for how to do your part to sustain our shared water source is to install native plants in your yard.  These plants will help draw water into the ground through their root systems.  They have deeper and more extensive roots than grass and many plants not historically acclimated to our local climate and geography.  Even converting your yard to 30% native plants can have a significant impact on water retention and providing habitat and food for pollinators.  The Town of North Hempstead has a list of plants on its website and is again offering financial support for purchasing native plants.

Water shortages are a reality.  We have one source of water on Long Island, and we need to protect it both from pollution and from overconsumption.

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here