Suffolk County Water Authority

Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Below are some of the most frequently asked questions by our customers. If you have a question not addressed in this section of our website, please contact our Public Relations Department at (631) 563-0296 or check other areas of our website. You can also "Find an Answer or Ask A Question" on drinking water topics atEPA's new online Q&A service, launched by the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. Visitors to the site can also submit questions and receive replies via email.

Drinking Water Questions

Where does my water come from?

Where did the aquifers come from?

How does the water get into the aquifers?

How do we get the water from the aquifers?

Do we have enough water in the aquifers, or will we run out some day?

If there's so much water in the aquifers, then why can't I waste water?

What's added to the water supply?

Sometimes, I can taste or smell a little chlorine in my tap water. What can I do?

Is the water safe to drink?

Who tests my water?

Who keeps an eye on your lab?

If the water is so safe, why all the testing?

What do you do if you find a chemical in the water that shouldn't be there?

If you have the ability to clean up our drinking water before it gets to our homes, why should we care about groundwater pollution?

What are you doing to prevent pollution of our aquifers?

How does your water stack up against bottled water?

I have a private well. What should I do?

Should I get a water filter just to be safe?

Sometimes I get rust in my water. Why?

What is the Water Authority doing to remove iron from my water?

How many of my tax dollars go to the Suffolk County Water Authority?

Questions And Answers

Where does my water come from?

All the water we deliver to our customers is withdrawn from porous underground sand and gravel formations known as aquifers. There are three major aquifers found beneath Suffolk County. The deepest aquifer is the Lloyd Aquifer, and it contains water that is up to several thousand years old. We take very little water from this aquifer. The middle aquifer is called the Magothy Aquifer, and it contains water that is up to 1,000 years old in its deepest layers underlying the south shore. The majority of water served to SCWA customers comes from the Magothy Aquifer. The shallowest aquifer is called the Upper Glacial Aquifer. Most of the wells that draw from this aquifer serve individual households.

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Where did the aquifers come from?

The aquifers were formed 60-65 million years ago by the movement of large masses of ice that covered portions of the earth. These glaciers carved out and piled up sand and gravel, forming the underground aquifers where the water could collect. The glaciers also formed large layers of underground clay masses that separate the three aquifers.

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How does the water get into the aquifers?

All the water in our aquifers comes from precipitation -- rain, melted snow, and even melted ice from the glaciers. When it rains, or when snow melts, it slowly works its way through the sandy soil beneath us and into the aquifers where it collects. The sandy soil helps filter and purify the water as it works its way to our aquifers.

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How do we get the water from the aquifers?

The Water Authority has approximately 500 wells located throughout Suffolk County. Our wells are anywhere from 100 to 750 feet deep. These wells have large electrically driven pumps that draw water from the aquifers as it is needed. The water is then delivered to large pipes called water mains that deliver it to our customers. Unlike New York City and many of the water suppliers in the tri-state area, our water does not come from reservoirs such as lakes or other large surface water systems.

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Do we have enough water in the aquifers, or will we run out some day?

Scientists believe there are between 65 and 120 trillion gallons of water stored in the underground aquifers. The SCWA pumps about 60 billion gallons per year, all of which is replaced annually by rain and snow absorbed into the aquifers. Annual precipitation in Suffolk alone is in excess of 400 billion gallons, most of which runs off into the surrounding bays, Long Island Sound and the ocean.

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If there's so much water in the aquifers, then why can't I waste water?

Water is a precious life giving resource that should not be squandered. Besides, as we pump water, we use more electricity and chemicals. And remember, you pay for the water you use.

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What's added to the water supply?

We add very small amounts of a chemical called chlorine to our water. Chlorine kills any germs or bacteria that might be present in the water mains as the water is delivered to you. The water as it comes from the ground is free of harmful bacteria. New York State requires that we add chlorine to our water. We also add a chemical called lime. The water that we pump from our aquifers is slightly acidic, which can damage the pipes in your home over a long period of time. Lime makes the water less acidic, which protects the pipes in your home from corrosion.

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Sometimes, I can taste or smell a little chlorine in my tap water. What can I do?

The best thing to do is place a pitcher of water in your refrigerator. As the temperature of the water goes down, the small amount of chlorine in the water will turn to gas and leave the water. Besides, there is nothing like cold water when you are thirsty.

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Is the water safe to drink?

Absolutely! The water we deliver to our customers must meet very strict standards established by New York State, and New York State's water quality standards are among the strictest in the United States. The water we deliver to you is constantly tested to insure that it is safe, pure, and meets all water quality standards.

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Who tests my water?

We test your water. The Water Authority operates the largest groundwater-testing laboratory in the nation. We have a staff of more than 35 professional chemists, microbiologists and technicians who perform approximately 75,000 tests a year in our state-of-the-art laboratory. We look for approximately 300 chemical constituents. Our laboratory operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to insure that your drinking water meets the highest standards in the nation.

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Who keeps an eye on your lab?

Twice per year, the New York State Department of Health performs Proficiency Tests at our laboratory. Only after we pass these tests are we "certified" by the state. In these tests, we are given samples of water that contain traces of chemicals. Using very sophisticated equipment, we must identify the chemicals and determine how much of each chemical is in each sample. We have consistently done very well on these tests and have always maintained our certification. We report our day-to-day water testing results electronically to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and the New York State Department of Health for their review. Our laboratory staff has even developed methods of testing for chemicals (protocols) that have been adopted and published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use by other laboratories. On a national level, our lab is accredited by the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditaion Program.

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If the water is so safe, why all the testing?

Science has made great advances over the past 50 years. New drugs have been discovered that have helped us live longer and healthier lives. New pesticides and herbicides have been developed to help increase crop production, feeding more people at a lower cost. Gasoline and gasoline additives have allowed us to travel more at a lower cost; fuel oils have allowed us to more dependably heat our homes and places of business; chemicals around our homes have given us conveniences that were unheard of before. Unfortunately, some of these advances and conveniences have had an effect upon our aquifers. Our corner gas stations, green lawns, landfills, cesspools, septic tanks, and use of "new chemicals", while making our lives easier, have also had an effect upon our groundwater. Very simply, what we put on the ground eventually can wind up in our groundwater. So, we look for all the chemicals that New York State and the federal government feel we should be looking for (about 200 chemicals). But beyond that, we even look for chemicals that we don't even have to (about another 100 chemicals), all to insure that the water we serve you is pure and safe.

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What do you do if you find a chemical in the water that shouldn't be there?

We can detect chemicals in our water-testing laboratory at very low levels. In fact, we measure chemicals down to parts per billion. To understand this, a part per billion would be equal to one second in the life of a 32-year-old person. If we begin to detect the presence of an undesirable chemical in a well's water, we will shut down the well in question. The director of our laboratory can call for the shut down of any well at any time! If the "raw" water coming from a well has a chemical that exceeds the allowable maximum, we can put the raw water through a filtration system which removes any impurities.

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If you have the ability to clean up our drinking water before it gets to our homes, why should we care about groundwater pollution?

It's a very simple answer. There is a significant expense in removing pollutants from your water. We can make your drinking water pure by filtering it through special carbon filtration systems. But each of these systems can cost up to a million dollars to construct. Currently, while most of our wells don't need such filters, they are being used on approximately 10% of our wells.

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What are you doing to prevent pollution of our aquifers?

Since 1990, the SCWA has been in the forefront of aquifer protection by actively pursuing polluters, shutting them down and requiring remediation and restitution. We have also enlarged our wellfields by acquiring larger and larger sites. We sponsor educational programs in local schools and a special research program at Stony Brook University (the Long Island Groundwater Research Institute was conceived, among other things, to research groundwater pollution issues). We also sponsored and essentially wrote the Pine Barrens protection bills that have resulted in setting aside 100,000 acres of pristine watershed areas for future water supplies in central Suffolk. We not only protect our current water supplies, but we are protecting the water supplies of all future generations.

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How does your water stack up against bottled water?

As we said before, our water meets very stringent water quality standards. Not only do we test for chemicals that the federal and state government require -- we test for much more. Standards for bottled water are far less stringent than the standards we meet. In studies done by independent organizations, some bottled water was not all that it had claimed to be. In fact, much of it comes from municipal water systems. Bottled water also creates a tremendous amount of plastic that must be dealt with. Then there is the issue of price. We will deliver 1,000 gallons of water to your sink for about the price of a gallon of bottled water. We have them beat on quality, safety, and price!

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I have a private well. What should I do?

By all means, you should have your water tested at least once a year by a qualified laboratory. The Suffolk County Department of Health Services can help arrange such testing. Private wells tend to be relatively shallow and therefore more likely to pick up surface contaminants. If public water is available in the area where you live, you should give serious thought to hooking up to the public water supply.

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Should I get a water filter just to be safe?

If you are a customer of the Suffolk County Water Authority, it's really not necessary. As we mentioned before, your water is tested constantly to ensure it is safe and meets all water quality standards. Some filters will remove chlorine and traces of copper and lead that may be present in your home's plumbing. However, a water filter must be properly maintained, or it could grow bacteria that could make you sick.

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Sometimes I get rust in my water. Why?

It's really not rust that can sometimes show up in some customers' water; it's iron. Iron is a naturally occurring element in some areas, particularly along Long Island's South Shore. In its natural state, you can't see iron in water. However, as the water meets with air and mixes with chlorine, you can see it. It's not harmful, but it doesn't look very appealing. Some of the iron settles in our water mains and can be disturbed when fire hydrants are opened. This will sometimes result in iron in your tap water.

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What is the Water Authority doing to remove iron from my water?

Several years ago, we embarked on an ambitious program to remove iron from our water in some of our service areas. We investigated numerous technologies available to remove iron from water and have been installing numerous iron removal systems in communities along the South Shore. In those areas where the systems have been installed, the results have been impressive and customer complaints have dropped dramatically. We have also installed water mains to carry water from areas where the water is free of iron to South Shore communities. As you might imagine, these iron removal systems are expensive and can't all be installed at once, but we feel the water we deliver to our customers will be pretty much iron free with a few years.

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How many of my tax dollars go to the Suffolk County Water Authority?

None! The Water Authority is an independent, not-for-profit, public benefit corporation. We are not part of Suffolk County government. We have no taxing powers. All of the money we need to operate comes from the sale of water and the sale of our own AA rated tax-free municipal bonds. We operate solely for the benefit of the customers we serve. By the way, our water rates are well below the national average, and our extensive system of fire hydrants helps to keep your homeowners and fire insurance premiums down!

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