Brookhaven Property Acquisition is First to Use DEC Source Water Protection Grants
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Peconic Land Trust today announced the preservation of a parcel in the Central Pine Barrens Core. The acquisition of this property will help protect Long Island's groundwater. The town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County, parcel is the first in the state to be approved and purchased with funding from DEC's Water Quality Improvement Project (WQIP) grants that specifically target the protection of source waters.
"Protecting Long Island's sole source aquifer is among the state's top priorities, and DEC commends our partners at the Peconic Land Trust for their assistance with the successful completion of this acquisition," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. "While small in size, this property will provide significant groundwater benefits when combined with other protected parcels nearby, affording greater protection to Long Island's drinking water supplies."
John v.H. Halsey, President of the Peconic Land Trust, said, "The Trust is pleased to work with the DEC and the Town of Brookhaven to protect our important drinking water resources. This is the first of what will be proactive preservation of land that will contribute to health and well-being of Brookhaven residents. Our sincere thanks go to the landowner for choosing to sell this land to protect it instead of building on it. We also extend our appreciation to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the New York State Senate and Assembly, and the staff of the DEC for making this funding available; and to the Town of Brookhaven and the Peconic Estuary Program for partnering with us. We look forward to announcing additional conservation efforts in Brookhaven later this year."
Funding for the project comes from a $2.3 million DEC grant awarded in December 2017 to the Peconic Land Trust for implementation of a Regional Aquifer Protection Land Acquisition Program (RAPLAP). The Trust paid $135,000 for the one-acre parcel on Cornfield Road. The property was identified by the Town of Brookhaven as a priority for conservation because of its location in the Central Pine Barrens Core, adjacent to other protected Suffolk County and Pine Barrens conservation easement lands, and its proximity to land owned by the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA).
The Trust proposes to maintain the property for passive recreational uses such as hiking and birdwatching. There will be no interior parking. Potential improvements would be limited to a foot trail, placement of trail markers, and a trailhead kiosk.
New York's Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIP)
WQIP is supported by the landmark $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act and the Environmental Protection Fund. It is a competitive reimbursement grant program to fund projects that improve water quality, reduce the potential for harmful algal blooms, and protect drinking water across the state. Grants are awarded for municipal wastewater treatment; nonagricultural nonpoint source abatement and control; salt storage; aquatic habitat restoration; municipal separate storm sewer systems; and land acquisition projects for source water protection. Last month, DEC announced more than $103 million for 124 projects being awarded through the WQIP grant program.
Two rounds of WQIP grants specifically for land acquisition have already been made, with more than $28 million awarded to more than 25 projects statewide. Protecting drinking water is a high priority for New Yorkers and additional land acquisition grants will be made available over the next three years, with a new round of applications for projects to be solicited this spring. For more information about the WQIP grant program, please visit DEC's website.
In addition to the WQIP program, DEC and the New York State Department of Health have launched a Drinking Water Source Protection Program to provide municipalities with resources and tools to proactively protect their drinking water sources. As part of the program's first phase, DEC is currently soliciting applications from municipalities interested in receiving free assistance in preparing drinking water source protection plans. Applications are being accepted until Feb. 15, 2019, and more information can be found at DEC's website. To continue supporting these and other initiatives, Governor Cuomo's 2019-20 Executive Budget proposal includes a total of $5 billion for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure - building upon the $2.5 billion Act and effectively doubling the state's investment in clean water over the next five years.
The Regional Aquifer Protection Land Acquisition Program
On Long Island, where 100 percent of the drinking water for 2.8 million residents comes from underground aquifers, protecting the land through which water filters is critically important. It costs up to 10 times more to produce clean drinking water from wells where surrounding lands is heavily developed than from wells in the Pine Barrens where the land is protected.
Peconic Land Trust's RAPLAP is a multi-year program using WQIP funding to acquire land or development rights for surface water quality, groundwater recharge areas, and drinking water protection. The Trust received $2.3 million from DEC (link leaves DEC website) to work with the Town of Brookhaven to identify and acquire properties to further protect drinking water sources. Funding for this project allows properties to be protected in and near the Special Groundwater Protection Areas within the Peconic Estuary and Forge River Watersheds and the South Shore Estuary Reserve.
The Peconic Land Trust is partnering with Peconic Estuary Program to pool resources and expertise to identify and acquire land or development rights on parcels that meet source water protection criteria. The $2.3 million from DEC will provide 75 percent of acquisition costs and the remaining 25 percent is matched with other public and/or private funds. The Trust was awarded an additional $3 million by DEC in December 2018 for Phase II to assist the Towns of Shelter Island, Southold and Riverhead. For more information, visit the Trust's website (link leaves DEC website).
People interested in the DEC's WQIP grant program and other New York water-related issues are encouraged to sign up for the weekly e-newsletter "Making Waves."
"The Peconic Estuary Program is proud to partner with the Land Trust on this important project. The acquisition of property under The Regional Aquifer Protection Land Acquisition Program (RAPLAP) is essential to achieve clean water standards necessary for a viable future on Long Island. The protection of drinking water resources also ensures the protection of vital groundwater systems at the Head of the Peconic River which contribute to overall estuary health," said Joyce Novak, Program Director of the Peconic Estuary Program.
"I would be hard-pressed to recommend a more significant one-acre property in Brookhaven Town than this parcel," said John Turner, a land management specialist with the Town of Brookhaven and a longtime Pine Barrens Protection advocate. "Not only will the purchase protect the trees and wildlife on site and help safeguard the ecological integrity of a complex of properties previously preserved adjacent to the parcel, acquisition will also prevent a new house with fertilized lawns and a septic system from being installed a few dozen feet from the Peconic River. Congratulations to the Peconic Land Trust on completing this important project."