Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Manorville residents held a press conference on May 22 to renew their call for public water to serve the area. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Both the Suffolk County Water Authority and the Riverhead Water District are asking U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand for member-item funding to extend public water to homes in the Manorville community, where PFOS and PFOA have been detected in 15% of the neighborhood’s private wells.

The water authority has asked for $13 million to connect 128 homes in Manorville — in both Riverhead and Brookhaven towns — to public water.

Riverhead has asked for $7.2 million to extend water to the 64 homes in the Manorville community located in the Town of Riverhead, Riverhead Community Development administrator Dawn Thomas said.

Suffolk County Water Authority also asked for $10 million to extend a pipeline from the Central Pine Barrens region to the Town of Southold to preserve and protect its shallow aquifer. Existing SCWA wells in the town have a limited capacity to pump enough water to serve local needs, the water authority said. It would be the first step of a long-term $26.2 million project aimed at ensuring an ample future water supply for that portion of SCWA’s service territory, according to a SCWA press release. The water would be drawn from existing wells in Flanders and Northampton, said SCWA spokesperson Tim Motz.

Both the water authority and the town water district also sought federal funding to extend water to homes in Manorville through Rep. Lee Zeldin, who submitted requests for both water suppliers in April.

The Senate and the House of Representatives recently restored the congressionally directed spending program, also known as member items or earmarks, which had been banned in Congress for a decade, following scandals over alleged misuse of funds.

The Suffolk County Water Authority and the Town of Riverhead have an ongoing dispute over whether the water authority has the right to provide public water to properties within the Town of Riverhead that are not already served by the Riverhead Water District.

According to the water authority its assigned service area includes all of Suffolk County, except areas already served by another public water supplier. But Riverhead’s position is that under state law the Town of Riverhead Water District can be extended to serve people who need it anywhere within the boundaries of the town. Riverhead officials have uniformly vowed to do whatever it takes to keep the Suffolk County Water Authority out of Riverhead Town.

An extension to 64 homes in the southwest corner of Riverhead Town is actually a small part of the territorial struggle between the SCWA and Riverhead Town. The bigger issue is which entity has the right to serve new development within the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

The water authority laid claim to the EPCAL site in an October 2009 letter to the State Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC is requiring the town to obtain the water authority’s consent to the Riverhead Water District serving the EPCAL site as a condition of permits Riverhead needs from the DEC in order to complete a land subdivision required to close on a $40 million, 1,643-acre land deal with Triple Five Group. The water authority has refused its consent, and in February the town sued to get the DEC’s decision nullified by a court. That case is pending.

Clare Bennett of Manorville holds a jug of discolored tap water from her home. Environmental advocate Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment holds a jug of water purchased at a store to demonstrate the contrast with Bennett’s tap water. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Manorville residents inside Riverhead Town, plagued by pollution issues affecting their private wells — which they argue emanate from the nearby former Grumman site — have been asking the town for years to extend public water to the area. Since the nearest Riverhead Water District main is a significant distance away from the area, that extension would be too costly for the relatively few homes in the community to bear. Typically a water district extension is paid for by a developer or the properties to be served.

Residents in the community, who are using bottled water for drinking and cooking, grew impatient with the town’s response to their complaints about water quality issues and began meeting with SCWA last year. The water authority and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services partnered on an effort to test the private wells. The test results showed contamination by PFOS or PFOA in about 15% of the wells. Other contaminants detected include various solvents and chemicals, some of which were well over state drinking water limits.

The Navy denies responsibility for the water problems in the area and has not responded to calls from Schumer and Zeldin for the Navy to provide funding for public water.

Court documents in an insurance case between Northrop Grumman and its liability insurance companies reveal the Navy and Northrop Grumman knew, as far back as the mid-1980s, that the company’s operations on the site had contaminated groundwater. A 2013 federal court decision, disclosed Grumman knew that groundwater contamination resulting from its operations could migrate off-site and threatened drinking water as well as the Peconic River estuary.

After residents met with SCWA last year and the water authority said it stood ready to extend public water to their homes if it could obtain funding to cover the cost, the Riverhead Town Board had maps and plans prepared for water district extensions.

But neither the town water district nor the water authority can proceed with water main extensions without outside funding.

“As noted earlier, we’re ready to begin if funding is secured,” Motz said last week.

“Whether funding is from the Senate or the House, whether we receive funding for both aspects of the project or one, we want to do everything we can to bring safe water to the community,” Motz said.

It is not yet clear when the funding requests will be acted upon.

“The community is happy to hear that strong efforts continue to be made to ensure all homes in Manorville have access to a clean drinking water supply,” said Manorville resident Kelly McClinchy, who has been an outspoken advocate for public water in the area.

“The residents are hopeful the elected officials will continue to quickly push these efforts forward and ensure access to the funding that is needed to follow through with this extension,” she said. “We are more than ready for clean water now.”

Editor’s note: This article has been amended to correct a misstatement about the source of water for the pipeline to serve the SCWA’s Southold service area. Water authority spokesman Tim Motz said after publication that the pump station on CR 111 would serve the Manorville extension, not the pipeline for Southold as he originally stated. The Southold pipeline would draw water from existing wells in Flanders and Northampton would serve the Southold area.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.