NYC Suspends Funds for Water Monitoring; Is the Public at Risk?

Water is one of New York City’s most important resources. As of May 1, however, an important and significant water data collection program in New York City will be suspended due to funding cuts, according to the USGS  G. The program collects information about water levels, flow patterns and salt water intrusion in the aquifer underlying Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island. Water-quality data is collected to help planners and managers determine the influence of urban development on the aquifer.  In addition, streamflow gauges provide information about surface water flowrate and depth throughout the five boroughs. 

The data collection has been funded and conducted cooperatively by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the USGS for over 30 years. Historically, the DEP has covered the majority of the cost of the program but now DEP has discontinued their financial support. Funds to continue data collection are not available in the USGS budget either, so data collection activities will cease.

The list of data collection stations includes 213 groundwater, 10 surface water, 133 water quality and one meteorological station located throughout the five boroughs and in parts of western Nassau County on Long Island. The stations are part of a long-term hydrological monitoring program established by the USGS and the city over 30 years ago, although data gathering for some of the locations dates back 70 or 80 years. 

The New York City stream gauge network provides information about hydrologic conditions in and around the city to water managers and scientists for research and evaluation of issues including: aquifer management; nutrient loading to estuaries; flooding and drought; climate change; and sea-level rise, among other issues. The network is part of a larger national network of 7,600 active stream gauges operated in cooperation with over 850 federal, tribal, state and local funding partners. 

Loss of the network leaves a significant gap for southeastern New York State. “We lose our ability to inform people. We lose our ability to describe groundwater conditions. We lose the ability to predict long-term trends that reflect climate change,” according to Stephen Terracciano, of the USGS New York Water Science Center. A significant issue we’ve encountered in our work at GRACE Communications Foundation is an overwhelming lack of data available to managers, planners and scientists that hamper their ability to evaluate food, water and energy resources in a fully-informed and integrated manner. The data collected at these stations “are critical for the production of seamless regional groundwater-level and depth-to-water maps by the USGS, which are used for many water management, engineering, and hazard awareness and abatement issues,” according to Terracciano. 

Groundwater is a particularly significant issue in southeast Queens where the water table is very high; street and basement flooding and street closures during major storm events are common occurrences. Taking away the ability to understand current groundwater conditions in areas prone to flooding problems seems counterproductive to providing remedies for the problems.

We're waiting on more information from the DEP. Stay tuned.

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For more information email Ron Busciolano (rjbuscio@usgs.gov) or Stephen Terracciano (saterrac@usgs.gov) or call (631 ) 736-0783  at the USGS New York Water Science Center, Coram Program Office.

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