Long Island Clean Water Partnership

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership addresses three priorities of the Rauch Foundation. It tackles issues facing the region’s water supply; it employs a new model of working together for Long Island’s future, and it engages a broad constituency in addressing the problem. 

The Clean Water Partnership is dedicated to reducing the threats to Long Island’s drinking and surface waters and to finding long-term solutions that will protect and restore water quality for the future. It is pressing for faster clean-up of toxic waste sites (of which there are 250 on Long Island); advocating better rules for monitoring, testing and handling of pesticides, and developing local programs to reduce household hazardous waste and assure that pharmaceuticals are disposed of in ways that keep them out of the water.

The challenge to the water supply is a major concern. As the Clean Water Partnership explains, “Science conclusively shows deteriorating water quality in Long Island’s groundwater. Nitrogen pollution from sewage, most notably aging sewer and septic systems, flows from our aquifers into our bays and harbors, damaging salt marshes, causing harmful algae blooms, reducing fish and shellfish populations and closing our beaches. Additionally, 117 pesticides have been detected in our groundwater as well as toxic and volatile organic compounds, and pharmaceutical drugs.” In Suffolk County, 70% of homes (90% in Eastern Suffolk) are not hooked up to sewers and rely instead on individual septic tanks or cesspools, which were designed to remove pathogens, not nitrogen.  

Fortunately, the problem can be fixed. But the solution requires action by local, county, and state officials to establish new water quality standards that reduce sewage pollution in Long Island’s waters and improve, upgrade and modernize existing sewer and septic systems. As the Clean Water Partnership states, “There are many ways to fund water quality improvement: tax credits, upgrade incentives, sales tax, bond act, water rate adjustments, and many more. Once new water quality standards are set, and enforcement has been provided for, we’ll know what funding mechanisms make the most sense.”

That’s why the Long Island Clean Water Partnership and the new model of collaboration that it represents are so important. The Partnership is a coalition of Long Island’s leading conservation organizations including Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Group for the East End, Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and The Nature Conservancy. Those four key groups meet twice a month, but their roles are not informal; they are carefully delineated.

As part of the model, a formal memorandum of understanding, signed at the outset of the Partnership, defines the coalition and the roles of each of the four key groups. It specifies their individual areas of responsibility (e.g., communications, research, grassroots organizing, technical knowledge, groundwater protection, etc.) and lists precise deliverables. 

That by itself is an innovative model, but the Clean Water Partnership and its model extend further. The Partnership has more than 100 partner organizations and 17,000 individual members. That gives it a constituency upon which it can call to influence public policy in ways that the four key groups on their own could not. The Partnership convenes its broad membership at an annual conference, sponsored by the Rauch Foundation.

In addition, Professor Christopher Gobler of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University acts as the Clean Water Partnership's science consultant. The Partnership regularly meets with him to discuss new water quality challenges, and together they release an annual water quality report.

The Rauch Foundation has provided key support for the Partnership to lay the groundwork for the long-term goal of ensuring that Long Island's sole-source aquifer system remains a viable source of clean, safe, and affordable drinking water for generations to come. The Foundation has supported each of the four key groups that created the Partnership and their various obligations under the memorandum of understanding.

The Rauch Foundation has also supported the Partnership’s efforts to identify policy, regulatory and municipal actions for transforming ideas into sustainable implementation vehicles, promoting wastewater treatment alternatives, and, through continued communications and outreach, keeping the public engaged in water issues on Long Island.

As a core element of the Partnership’s work, the Rauch Foundation has additionally supported research by Professor Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University. His research – and that of his colleagues in the Gobler Lab – monitors water quality levels across Long Island. As research is a key priority of the Foundation, ensuring that the Partnership has the latest research on which to draw is fundamental to the Foundation’s commitment to improving Long Island’s water quality.

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership is addressing a fundamentally important issue. It is tackling it through a new way of working together. It is engaging a broad constituency across Long Island in combating the challenge. This is precisely the kind of bold, innovative, and collaborative approach that the Rauch Foundation prioritizes.