A Comprehensive Water Resources Monitoring Program for the Central Pine Barrens Region, Suffolk County, New York

Science Center Objects

Problem Statement The sustainability of natural resources in the Pine Barrens region of Suffolk County, N.Y., is a concern for the Central Pine Barrens (CPB) Joint Planning and Policy Commission. The effects of development within and surrounding the Pine Barrens region present a risk to the quality and quantity of ground and surface water in this sensitive ecosystem. Development in the area h...

Problem Statement

The sustainability of natural resources in the Pine Barrens region of Suffolk County, N.Y., is a concern for the Central Pine Barrens (CPB) Joint Planning and Policy Commission. The effects of development within and surrounding the Pine Barrens region present a risk to the quality and quantity of ground and surface water in this sensitive ecosystem. Development in the area has increased water-supply demands, added impervious surfaces that may reduce groundwater recharge and increase stormwater runoff, and increased the potential for anthropogenic contamination from fertilizer and pesticide application and onsite wastewater-disposal systems. The CPB Commission is focused on protecting the remaining, pristine ground- and surface-water resources, ecological resources and preserving open space within the Pine Barrens region. Currently, no extensive long-term groundwater and surface-water monitoring plan exists in the Pine Barrens region, which has led the Commission to have the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) develop a long-term monitoring program for the Commission to track and manage CPB water resources and ecosystem health. A comprehensive groundwater- and surface-water monitoring program would provide valuable data to natural resource managers, other stakeholders, and the public regarding the hydrologic conditions of the region. 
Land development accelerated during the 1970’s and 1980’s on eastern Long Island. Recognizing the threat that this development posed to the CPB’s vital environmental resources, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society (LIPBS) filed a lawsuit against local towns and zoning boards. The lawsuit sought to require that the environmental impact of any new developments be determined prior to construction. Although this lawsuit failed, it focused attention on the need to protect the CPB and eventually led to the passing of the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act of 1993 by the New York State Legislature. Among other things, the legislation established two zones within the CPB; a 56,747 acre Core Preservation Area and a 48,655 acre Compatible Growth Area (fig. 1). Within the Core Preservation Area, limited new development is permitted, and within the Compatible Growth Area, development is allowed as long as it is environmentally compatible.

The Pine Barrens covers portions of the Towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead, and Southampton, and small portions of the Villages of Quogue and Westhampton Beach. The Long Island aquifer system (the upper glacial, the Magothy, and the Lloyd aquifers) underlying the CPB is the sole source for drinking water for the population in Suffolk County. Continued development within and surrounding the CPB threatens the region’s water quality and quantity through point and non-point contamination and increased water-supply demand on groundwater, and hydraulically-linked surface-water resources. The open space of the CPB protects the last large, pristine expanse of natural (ecological and hydrological) resources in Long Island. Proper management and protection of these natural resources require a comprehensive understanding of the region’s hydrologic conditions.

The Comprehensive Land Use Plan, as adopted by the Commission in 1995, identifies the need for a comprehensive-monitoring program on the hydrology and water quality of the Central Pine Barrens as a baseline upon which future research contributors could develop programs and land managers could use to guide and shape public policy and regulations within the region. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan outlines the following objectives for a monitoring program:


  • Establish a central hydrological data repository
  • Water level and chemical monitoring of significant wetlands
  • Fate of pollutant modeling and wetland restoration
  • Sensitivity analyses of Core Preservation Area wetlands
  • Monitoring of water-resource impacts of the management program
  • Delineation of the contributing areas of the Carmans and Forge Rivers
  •  Regional deep flow groundwater modeling


The USGS has maintained a long-term record of water resources in the region back through the 1940s, including many surface-water and groundwater sites.  The USGS network includes streamflow gages at the Carmans River (link to NWIS site 01305000) and the Peconic River (link to NWIS site 01304500), which are operated in cooperation with various local agencies, including the Suffolk County Water Authority and Town of Brookhaven (TOB). These streamgages record stream stage (water level), which is converted to streamflow by a stage-to-discharge relation developed and maintained by the USGS for each site (Lurry, 2011).

 The Carmans River watershed is of particular concern to CPB stakeholders because the entire watershed lies within the CPB region. Several organizations (Federal, State, County, and Town governments; private individuals, and civic associations) have joined together in support of the Carmans River Partnership—a group whose focus is to protect and preserve the Carmans River. In 2013, the Town of Brookhaven (TOB) , in partnership and with the support of the CPB Commission, prepared and adopted the “Carmans River Conservation and Management Plan,” which describes the degradation of water quality and aquatic habitats within the stream during the last few decades. As part of this plan, the TOB also established the Carmans River Management Plan Performance Committee to monitor and oversee the implementation of the plan.

The TOB Planning, Environmental and Land Management (PELM) Department supported the 2013 plan in a cooperative agreement with the USGS to monitor water quantity and quality at the Carmans River gage (01305000) from 2014-16. Results of the monitoring established a new water-quality baseline for the Carmans River, which previously was characterized through historical (1966-97) monitoring efforts. Continued monitoring is important to understand the overall health of the stream, which is sensitive to changes in groundwater quantity and quality in the CPB region. Water-quality constituents—such as major inorganics constituents and nutrients –may be used to identify the amount of anthropogenic contamination and helps determine if the waterbody is healthy or impaired. Understanding the extent of contamination in Carmans River waters is necessary to develop an effective watershed plan to manage, protect, and restore the stream. For example, stream restoration efforts require an up-to-date baseline of water quality for the reach of the stream to evaluate future programs designed to mitigate ecological and hydrological impairments.

 The USGS 2014-16 water-quality monitoring efforts at the Carmans River streamgage (01305000) are valuable for a limited assessment of stream health, however, the few samples collected at one location are not enough for a full assessment of anthropogenic contamination of the waterway. Continued water-quality monitoring at the gage with an increase in sampling (seasonal) frequency, at additional key locations along the stream, and at nearby groundwater wells will provide the Carmans River Management Plan Performance Committee and the CPB Commission with reliable metrics to assess the general health of the stream. These data can be used to develop an effective watershed-management plan and understand water-quality trends over time for the Carmans River.

Central Pine Barrens Stream and Groundwater Monitoring

Figure 1. Click here open an interactive map of the location of USGS stream-discharge,
groundwater-level, and water-quality monitoring stations within the Central Pine Barrens
region of Long Island, NY.​​​​​​​ (Public domain.)



 The primary objective of this project is to expand and operate a comprehensive water-resources monitoring program for the CPB region. This project will use historical and current data to inform the collection of additional groundwater levels, stream discharges, and water-quality data in order to assess short- and long-term trends in hydrologic conditions within the CPB region. In addition, the proposed monitoring network will (1) maintain a publicly accessible database of groundwater levels, stream discharges, and water-quality results; (2) provide a comprehensive baseline of water-resources conditions against which future hydrologic changes can be compared; and (3) provide data to identify potential areas of ecohydrologic concern that may result from encroaching development or other stressors within the CPB.



 The five-year data-collection program as described in this proposal designed for the CPB includes areas that have experienced increased land development and areas that have been protected by State, Federal, County, and Town governments and stakeholder groups. Site selection for the monitoring program is focused to provide data to properly manage the ecological and water resources of the CPB. This project will establish and operate a comprehensive-monitoring program for both areas of the CPB. The program will complement the ongoing, long-term, island-wide hydrologic monitoring program operated by the USGS, the results of which are made publically available via the Internet. Data collection proposed here leverages programs currently supported by the SCWA, SCDHS, and NYSDEC. Additional data collection will be focused on the Carmans River watershed, consistent with the Carmans River Conservation and Management Plan, which provides guidance to measure stream and water-quality restoration.

The proposed monitoring program will collect water-quantity and water-quality data for five years. All efforts will be summarized in a USGS report. 


Lawrence, G.B., Lane, O., and Siemion, Jason, 2015, Coastal Plain pond water quality and mercury content of biota of the Long Island Central Pine Barrens and Mashomack Preserve: Effects of atmospheric deposition and human development: 

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, NYSERDA Report 15-01, 55p. plus appendices.

Lurry, D.L., 2011, How does a Geological Survey streamgage work?: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2011–3001, 2 p.

Sauer, V.B. and Turnipseed, D.P., 2010, Stage Measurement at gaging stations: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods book 3, chap. A7, 45p., available online at https:pubs.usgs.gov/tm/tm3-a7/

U.S. Geological Survey, variously dated, National field manual for the collection of water-quality data: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques of Water-Resources Investigations, book 9, chaps. A1-A10, available online at http://pubs.water.usgs.gov/twri9A.

Wagner, R.J., Boulger, R.W., Jr., Oblinger, C.J., and Smith, B.A., 2006, Guidelines and Standard Procedures for Continuous Water-Quality Monitors: Station Operation, Record Computation, and Data Reporting: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods Report 1-D3

Project Location by County

Suffolk County, NY