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Report: Increased Nitrogen Levels Threatening Suffolk County Water Supplies

SUFFOLK COUNTY (CBSNewYork) -- There is a looming water crisis on Long Island.

A new report says excessive lawn watering and pesticide runoff from homes is threatening drinking water, bays and harbors, CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported Monday.

Calling it "the bomb in our bays," the report says nitrogen is increasing at an alarming rate and is now charged as public water enemy No. 1.

"This is really an historic moment for Suffolk County and Long Island," project author Sarah Lansdale said.

A long-awaited study of surface and ground water documents an 80 percent increase of nitrate concentrations in the aquifer below Long Island since 1987.

Some believe it could become a health and safety crisis within our children's lifetimes.

"Water is everything to us on this island. It is our quality of life, our recreation, our economy," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. "The water we drink is beneath our feet. If we are not protecting our water quality, we cannot have a prosperous future."

Bellone called protecting water quality the priority of his administration.

While most of New York gets its drinking water from upstate reservoirs, Long Island is unique.

"Three million people get their water from under their feet, not from a reservoir, not from any other source," said Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.

The study blames the increase in nitrogen on several factors, including the over-watering of lawns, McLogan reported. Excessive watering, in addition to being wasteful, can drive nutrients into groundwater. The report also identified overuse of residential fertilizers and outdated septic systems as contributing factors.

In all, 74 percent of Suffolk homes are not connected to sewage treatment plants and too many chemicals and household toxins are flushed down the drain, McLogan reported.

"So, we've met the enemy and in some cases it is us," said Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Two significant polluters were singled out – dry cleaners and gas stations.

"Historically, those are responsible for contamination of volatile organics in the aquifer," said Walter Dawydiak of the Suffolk County Department of Health.

To maintain our current quality of life, it is suggested that residents water their lawns less, follow pesticide instructions, connect homes to sewage treatment plants and dry cleaners and gas stations be monitored.

Another goal is to use treated waste water runoff to water Long Island's many golf courses, McLogan reported.

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