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DEP shelves plan to tap additional Jamaica wells

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A city plan to reactivate additional wells from the Jamaica Water System to ease the city’s drought has been temporarily suspended, said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection had developed the plan to add water to the city’s drinking supply but told the Council at its executive budget hearing last week that it will not reopen the wells, where contamination has been feared, until the city enters a stage two emergency level, Comrie said.

The city entered a stage one emergency in mid-March, imposing restrictions on water use and up to $750 fines for violations. A stage two emergency may be called once the reservoirs drop to 50 percent of capacity, Comrie said.

“I’m pretty happy with that,” he said. “They said they wouldn’t start pumping until they get to stage two.”

Upstate reservoirs, from which the city gets most of its water, were at 83.2 percent of capacity Tuesday, down from a normal reading of 99.7 percent, according to the DEP Web site.

DEP’s plan to repair and restart about 20 closed wells in the southeast Queens area in hopes of adding up to 50 million gallons of water a day to the city’s drinking supply had southeast Queens residents concerned over the safety of their drinking water. But most of the wells had already been closed when the city bought them in the 1990s due to a lack of maintenance—not the contamination that the community feared, Donald Cohen, project coordinator with DEP consultant Malcolm Pirnie, has said.

The DEP also said it plans to test the water quality before putting the wells online, but residents were still wary of the plan.

Although the wells will not be tapped, the DEP will continue with its plan to repair and test the wells, Comrie said.

About 13 other wells from the Jamaica Water Supply system, which have been online since the city bought them, are pumping water into the city supply, adding about 10 million gallons per day.

Comrie hopes that Mother Nature will help keep the reservoir level rising, and with average rainfall throughout the summer the city may be able to avoid the stage two level, he said. But that remains to be seen since the water year started June 1, which usually marks a decline in rainfall and an increase in consumption, said Geoffrey Ryan, a spokesman for the DEP.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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