On his calendar, the two events were separated by about 38 hours and 220 miles. In actuality, aside from the venues themselves – the vast auditorium-style Hearing Room B at the Legislative Office Building in Albany and the multi-purpose room at Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center in Riverhead – there was little to distinguish between the sessions. The conversational focus at both the New York state legislature’s Joint Public Hearing on Environmental Conservation on a February Tuesday and the annual Environmental Roundtable at the confluence of Long Island’s north and south forks that Thursday was the same.
“It’s all about clean water,” said David Ansel, our regional director of water protection. “Everywhere I talk to people about their priorities, everyone agrees: we all care about clean water.”
That’s not hyperbole. A poll released in November by the National Defense Resource Council found that access to safe drinking water is the second-highest priority for Americans, regardless of location, age, race, and political affiliation (the issue tied with crime reduction, trailing only the economy and inflation.) It was a core issue for supporters of the $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act, passed by New Yorkers in November.
Clean water was the central theme when David testified to the EnCon committee on February 14, recommending that the state budget include $1 billion for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act in Fiscal Year 2024. And it was the primary topic du jour during the first Suffolk County roundtable held in person in three years, which David attended with Louise Harrison, our Long Island natural areas manager.
“Environmental conservation and protection is a critical part of maintaining the East End’s unique quality of life, supporting our tourism and agriculture sectors and ensuring future generations have clean water to drink, air to breathe, and pristine beaches and waterways to enjoy,” State Senator Anthony Palumbo said in a statement released after the event.
Sen. Palumbo hosted the event in his district with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., a 13-term assemblyman who has participated in these roundtables since they were first started roughly three decades ago, and Assemblymember Jodi Giglio, in her second term representing her eastern Suffolk County district. U.S. Congressmen Nick LaLota, Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, and a number of town supervisors and county legislators were on hand, as were representatives from numerous environmental groups.
The clean water conversation was by no means one-dimensional. It ranged from the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program to the removal of abandoned lobster pots in Long Island Sound. Even seemingly unrelated topics – Governor Kathy Hochul’s housing plan and a recent case about state-permitted sand mining, for example – are, at the core, really about groundwater protection.
“Long Island environmental issues center around water quality, especially groundwater, but also in Long Island Sound, South Shore Estuary, and Peconic Estuary,” said Louise. “So many other issues touch this one.”
Even the frequently expressed concern over access to funding from the Bond Act is a clean water issue in a county where 337,220 voters supported Proposition 1 – only New York (Manhattan) and Kings (Brooklyn) counties tallied more “yes’ votes than Suffolk County.
“It was great to be out on the East End, listening to constituents and elected officials and advocacy groups,” said David, “all sharing their concerns about clean water issues that clearly are top of mind in Albany, too.”