When it comes to running the Jericho Water District, by no means is Nick Bartilucci wet behind the ears. With 30 years of experience to his credit, the Laurel Hollow resident and certified engineer has overseen the largest water district in all of New York State - 37 acres in all - as a water commissioner.
Considering Bartilucci's protracted career in the district, Jericho resident and environmentalist Laurie Farber believes that it's time to introduce the system to some new blood - someone with freshly tapped ideas, if you will.
On Tuesday, December 8, local residents belonging to the communities sustained and supplied by the water district - Jericho, Syosset, Woodbury, Brookville, Old Brookville, Muttontown, East Norwich, Oyster Bay and parts of Laurel Hollow, Upper Brookville and Matinecock - will vote for one of these candidates as water commissioner, a three-year position. The two other current water district commissioners are still fulfilling their terms, which are completed on a scattered, yearly basis.
The vote will take place from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Jericho Water District headquarters, which is actually located in Syosset, at 125 Convent Road.
Farber, a science instructor at Dowling College and an ecological activist, has launched what in the relatively mundane and obfuscated world of district elections would be considered a fairly aggressive campaign, stressing what she claims are lapses in a system that should strive to be more proactive. From 1993-95 she served as the conservation chairperson for the Long Island Sierra Club, a renowned environmental organization, before dedicating herself full-time to her own not-for-profit creation, the Jericho-based Starflower Experiences, Inc. The mission of the nearly 10-year-old organization is to educate both children and adults about environmentalism, including water protection and conservation.
The veteran Bartilucci is a civic engineer specializing in water supply and distribution systems, and is a Department of Health-certified Grade 1A operator of public water treatment and purification plants. As such, he has accumulated honors and awards for his toil as recently as this year from such groups as the American Water Works Association, the Engineers' Joint Committee of Long Island and the Coalition for the Protection of Long Island's Groundwater.
He has formerly served as chairman of the Long Island Water Conference, president (and current board member) of the New York State Water Environment Association and president of the Nassau/Suffolk Water Commissioners' Association, among other organizations.
But as far as Farber's concerned, that's all water under the bridge. According to her perspective of the district as it currently functions, more can and should be done to conserve water and ensure its purification.
"People are afraid to drink tap water, and that's something to be addressed," said Farber, who said she knows of many neighbors who purchase bottled water. "There's a loss of confidence [in our water]. Can we regain it? I don't know."
Farber believes that residents' faith in the safety of the Jericho Water District supply may have dwindled last year when a very trace amount of coliform bacteria was discovered during the system's routine tests, forcing the commissioners to have the water supply chlorinated. Chlorinating kills the microscopic organisms, but also discolors and distastes the water.
"People in the Jericho Water District were unhappy with the way the district handled the matter of chlorinating," said Farber, who indicated that the district's attempt at communicating with the community about the tainted test sample and the added chlorine should have been done "sooner and clearer."
But Bartilucci and his fellow commissioners stressed at the time of the chlorination that the purification process was merely a precautionary safeguard.
Bartilucci said that the water district has a tradition of taking such careful measures whenever contamination is a possibility, including abandoning wells that lie underneath areas of major development.
"We're fortunate that the district is quite large and we can locate wells in the sparsely populated areas, where there is no commercial activity," said Bartilucci. "In the past, we've abandoned wells in the Jericho Turnpike area."
However, Farber said that by moving wells instead of maintaining purity, the district is "not looking at the bigger picture." As the scarcely populated areas continue to grow and development continues, soon there will be no safe haven for the district to draw from its water source, she explained.
Farber also contested that "Some water districts are a little more aggressive as far as water conservation goes."
Bartilucci countered Farber's claim, listing several conservation efforts. "We were the first and only water supplier to hire a full-time water conservationist, whose duties are to educate the public..." said the incumbent.
He also said that the water district enacted the first escalating water tax rate on Long Island, which charges more per gallon to households that use higher quantities of water.
The incumbent also emphasized that the 37-acre district has the lowest average annual tax rate per household on Long Island, and does not carry the burden of bonded indebtedness.
In an election with typically low turnout, accurate prognostications are difficult to come by. So until the results are in, call this water race a wash.