Water Quality

Development affects both the quantity and quality of water by changing the natural flow of storm water runoff in a watershed. When rain hits impervious surfaces such as roofs, streets, and parking lots, it flows off in large quantities, carrying pollutants it picks up from the surfaces. The runoff's increased quantity and speed erode stream channels and destabilize their banks, while pollutants harm plants and wildlife in rivers, streams, and bays.  The more development we have, the greater the runoffs will be.

Results of survey responders:

100% agree that future commercial development must have a town-preset percentage of the site remain unpaved – preferably 80% for residential and 50% for commercial.

81.2% think that all new construction, or replacement of existing cesspools and septic systems, should have enhanced septic systems as recently approved by the Suffolk County Department of Health.  In order to facilitate this, access to grant money must be made simple and quick.

91.1% want the town to discontinue the practice of allowing developers to pay a fee in lieu of landscaping a certain percentage of the site.  Landscaping should be a part of the submittal process and subject to approval.

78% believe that if the Town developed a permitting process for the removal of trees, it would help diminish the excessive clearing of trees from land, which results in the loss of various beneficial environmental and visual qualities.

See Appendix 1 for information related to the impact of various developments/buildings on water usage and the influence of nitrogen on our creeks, bays, lakes and estuaries.  It should be obvious to everyone that water quality is a critical element in the future stability of the North Fork.  We believe future development must be compelled to use enhanced septic systems while maximizing the amount of pervious area on every acre of developed land.  Furthermore, we believe the amount of nitrogen applied by landscapers and homeowners should be regulated by code – and enforced.

APPENDIX 1

Water and Water Usage on The North Fork of Long Island[1]

Many have learned another reason the North Fork is unique:  With its shallow supply of fresh water, local authorities are warning residents and businesses that they need to start conserving this “public resource.”

“This, by far, is one of the most sensitive areas on the Island,” said Tyrand Fuller, lead hydrogeologist for the Suffolk County Water Authority.

County Legislator Al Krupski, our Supervisor and members of the Town Board have all spoken about the importance of protecting the North Fork’s fresh water supply as well as our estuaries. 

Our Councilman Robert Ghosio stated, “The aquifers we have is truly owned by the people, everybody, and how we use that and how it can be detrimental to each other is an important issue to me.”

As of September 2016, the North Fork remained under a severe drought watch.  The State Department of Environmental Conservation declared it in July of 2016, the first time in 14 years. The lack of rain has only gotten worse, according to the National Weather Service. Mr. John Murray a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton said, this past summer was ranked the fourth driest summer (5.25 inches of rain) since record keeping began at Islip in 1984. The lack of rain is affecting groundwater reserves, he said.

Numerous wells tested across Suffolk County are running “below normal” to “much below normal.” Some private wells, as reported by our neighbors, became no longer useable. Streams are also flowing weakly.  On January 12, 2017 The U.S Drought Monitor moved eastern Suffolk to the moderate drought category. The U.S Drought Monitor indicated that there’s always potential for a reversal, noting “that stream flows and ground water levels on the East End remain much lower than normal and conditions will be closely monitored for possible re –intensification.” 

 

Mr. Murray said it takes weeks for groundwater to react to rainfall, or the lack thereof.  But even a sudden burst of rain wouldn’t help matters. “Anytime you get heavy rain, a large amount of rain in a short amount of time, the ground doesn’t have time to absorb it all, and you get more runoff. The rapid accumulation of water … is going to be really bad.” Instead, Long Island needs to see steady light rain that occurs throughout the day over a few days each week.  

The water authority issued a water alert earlier this summer requesting that customers keep nonessential water use to a minimum. Mr. Fuller, lead hydrogeologist for the Suffolk County Water Authority, stated the North Fork should be especially concerned. Unlike other parts of Long Island, where freshwater aquifers extend deeper underground, the North Fork’s water “bubbles” float closer to the surface. Since fresh water is less dense, it stays separated from the salt water below. But this setup makes the situation precarious. If too much water is drawn from the aquifer, the bubble could shrink and salt water could begin to seep into the 131 SCWA wells across the North Fork, as well as private water wells. 

Thirty-four percent of the buildings larger than 450 SF in the Peconic Estuary lie on lots with shallow depths to groundwater (less than 13 feet) (Peconic Green Growth, Inc.) The associated onsite wastewater systems on lots with shallow depths to groundwater are expected to eventually fail due to rising groundwater tables caused by climate change. These lots will not have the required clearances to nitrify effluent. Pathogens dispersed from cesspools will be more likely to enter groundwater, posing a potential health hazard. 

The Peconic Green Growth, Inc. states that, within the Peconic Estuary, 12% of buildings are in flood zones, 5% are in the 100-year flood plain or VE zone, and 33% are in SLOSH zones (storm surge). The hamlet of Southold has the most exposure with 670 buildings located in flood zones and 1,577 in SLOSH zones.  Exposed waste water is directly harmful to the environment.  

Fifty-four percent of the buildings in the Peconic Estuary are on soils considered very limited for the treatment of onsite wastewater. Forty-four percent of the buildings in the Peconic Estuary are on soils that drain excessively. The latter condition tends not to impact actual system function, but does transport wastewater too quickly to groundwater, increasing contamination levels, as there is not enough time for natural soil-based processing to occur, as indicated by the Peconic Green Growth, Inc.  Pollutants reach our surface water very rapidly. Forty-seven percent of all buildings greater than 450 SF in the Peconic Estuary are sited over groundwater that only takes zero to two years to reach surface waters.   

Detailed Discussion of Specific Issues:  Nitrogen, Peconic Estuary, Temperature, Stormwater Runoff,

Long Island Sound, Nitrogen Effects on Fish, Shellfish and Turtles, Watersheds and Trees

Nitrogen:  As discussed in the Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resource Management Plan, 2010,

(SCCWRMP), the North Fork (Riverhead and Southold, NY) are in a very precarious position. According to

Christopher Gobler, PhD, a professor with the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, the algal blooms are becoming more frequent and toxic. The North Fork (Riverhead and Southold) has some of the highest nitrogen levels in groundwater in Suffolk County. Nitrogen levels even exceed drinking water standards [Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) 10 milligrams per liter 10mg/L], as shown in the County maps of public supply and private wells. (Figures 1 & 2). The goal of the Sanitation Code for drinking water is 4-6 mg/L.  

Nitrogen levels in the aquifers are increasing at an alarming rate. In just eighteen years aquifers have displayed significant increases in nitrogen concentrations with a 39% increase in the Upper Glacial, and nearly double in the deeper Magothy Aquifer. The County’s evaluation of the nitrate levels in the public wells was extended to 2013 and found the nitrate levels continuing to rise, representing a 41% increase in the Upper Glacial Aquifer. Nitrate levels have risen from 2.54 mg/L in 1987 to 3.58 mg/L in 2013, with a relatively constant rise of 0.04 mg/L per year. Nitrate concentrations in the Magothy Aquifer have risen from 0.91 mg/L in 1987 to 1.76 mg/L in 2013 (93.2%), with the rate of increase accelerating after 2005 from 0.03 to 0.04 mg/L per year. (Figure 3) 

The Peconic Green Growth, Inc. stipulates, excess nitrogen causes algal blooms that in turn reduce dissolved oxygen levels and contribute to the acidification of the waters, impacting fish and shellfish formation and survival rates. Excess nitrogen also impacts eel grass survival and weakens the root systems of wetland grasses. Their decline impacts marine life habitats as well as reduces their usefulness as buffers to the built environment from storm impacts. Some areas exceed the drinking water maximum contaminant level of 10 mg/L. Healthy limits in these receiving waters are more stringent at 0.4 mg/L. The high contaminant level in groundwater feeding into surface waters negatively impacts the coastal ecosystems. (Figures 4 & 5)

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has the responsibility to establish and implement a policy that protects existing water quality from being degraded. The standard is one for drinking water, not marine health. Marine habitat is roughly twenty times more sensitive to nitrogen loading than the drinking water maximum limits. For instance, the Peconic Estuary Program identifies 0.4 to 0.45 mg/L as the target maximum for a healthy marine environment, but the drinking water maximum contaminant level is 10 mg/L. The goal of the Sanitation Code for drinking water is 4-6 mg/L.  

The SCCWRMP also strongly links development to excess nitrogen loadings. In a simulation model, densities of four homes per acre contributed nitrogen at levels exceeding maximum drinking water standards (10 mg/L), while two-acre zoning produced 6-10 mg/L. Therefore, even with a two acre zoning as maximum density, it is still well over the maximum nitrogen target that the Peconic Estuary Program identifies as 0.4 to 0.45 mg/L.  In addition, the density in many of our coastal areas produces over 20 times the Peconic Estuary total maximum daily load (TMDL) goal in sensitive marine environments, such as the Peconic Estuary.

The EPA stated in 2016 that it plans to focus on indicators of excess nitrogen such as the loss of eel grass beds, which particularly affect the Sound, Bays and coasts. Nitrogen also distresses and eradicates ell grass, a submerged grass that provides a critical habitat for marine life. Septic and cesspool systems, storm water runoff and turf fertilizers are adding that the amounts of nitrogen from all these sources “have remained steady or increased.” However, reevaluation of water quality in the Peconic Estuary conducted 2012 found  there are a number of stations with worsening conditions, pointing to a need to accelerate mitigation efforts.  The EPA has developed a manual for assessing estuarine nutrient criteria and is working with states to establish regional estuary criteria, with an expected completion date of 2018 for New York.   

 

According to Peconic Green Growth, Inc., the two principle measurements of nitrogen are flow and total pounds of nitrogen. Current regulations regarding development densities are based on nitrogen flow rates which impact drinking water. The evaluation does not take in consideration total pounds of nitrogen, which is a critical factor influencing the impacts of nitrogen loading on marine environments.  Revised carrying capacities need to be considered for both flow and total poundage, especially when adjacent to sensitive watershed areas.  Applying this revised standard for a carrying capacity defined by total pounds of nitrogen per area, applicable to existing onsite systems, would greatly improve marine health. 

Too much nitrogen can cause too much algae to grow. When algae blooms and then dies, the decomposition process consumes oxygen. Aquatic plants, including algae, also use oxygen at night through respiration. The combined effect of plant decomposition and respiration can cause dissolved oxygen to drop to low levels, especially in the early morning hours and during the warm weather months. Aquatic animals need dissolved oxygen to live. When conditions become stressful due to low dissolved oxygen levels, many organisms suffocate and die, while others may flee the area. The lowering of the dissolved oxygen levels are violation of the applicable water quality standard. 

Hypoxia is a state of low dissolved oxygen (DO), at levels that are detrimental to marine life. The level, size and duration of periods of hypoxia influence the severity of its impact. The Peconic Estuary Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan recommends a minimum level for dissolved oxygen of 5mg/L for the whole estuary. At this time the acute areas suffering from hypoxia are mostly occurring in the western section of the estuary.  

Evaluation indicates that treating all the existing onsite wastewater systems for nitrogen reductions will not meet total groundwater reduction goals. If a proportionate evaluation is applied then basically all onsite systems in the watershed will need mitigation treatment with a 50% reduction, while two-thirds would need to be enhanced if reductions of 75% were met as indicated by Peconic Green Growth, Inc.

Peconic Estuary:  Estuaries are areas where fresh water from the land and salt water from the oceans mix. They are among the most important ecosystems on the earth, serving as important nursery and spawning areas for finfish and shellfish. These coastal areas are also highly valued by humans. 

The Peconic Estuary System of eastern Suffolk County, NY has been designated an “Estuary of National Significance” under the Clean Water Act.  It is an estuary of national importance under Section 320 of the Clean Water Act (amendments 1987), as afforded by Peconic Green Growth, Inc. It was accepted by the National Estuary Program (NEP) in 1992. With stakeholder involvement, the Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) was established in 1993 to prepare a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) approved in 2001.

The plan identified 340 management tasks, with a focus on brown tide, excess nutrient loading, the protection and restoration of habitat and living resources, pathogens, toxic pollutants, and critical lands protection. Nitrogen reduction is needed throughout the estuary to achieve reduction goals. Nitrogen levels detected in the coastal waters along the north shore of the Peconic Estuary exceed the total maximum daily load (TMDL) concentrations. This is a reflection of the high levels of nitrogen detected in groundwater on the North Fork.  

Brown Tides, caused by the phytoplankton species Aureococcus anophagefferens, first appeared in the Peconic Estuary in 1985, with repeated occurrences through 1996. While there are many contributing factors to brown tides, the Peconic Estuary Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (PE CCMP) from 2001 cites excess nitrogen in groundwater as being an important factor triggering algal blooms especially after dry spells. The objectives of the plan regarding nitrogen loading, focus on mitigating low dissolved oxygen rates and includes preventing net increases and reducing nitrogen loading immediately.  The plan notes that the western most portion of the estuary already violates guidelines for dissolved oxygen (5 mg/L), while the central estuary has eutrophic stresses (Great and Little Peconic Bays), which have since expanded as far east as Orient Harbor, as referenced from Peconic Green Growth, Inc. 

Related goals include: Decrease total nitrogen concentrations in the western estuary to no more than 0.45 mg/l (summer mean);  Ensure low dissolved oxygen levels to not fall below 5 mg/l;  Maintain total nitrogen levels of 0.4 mg/l in shallow waters.

Scientists will continue monitoring the Peconic Estuary. A quick fix, Mr. Gobler said, won’t be coming. These conditions are brought about by nitrogen pollution from septic systems and fertilizers. The only way to reduce algal blooms is to reduce nitrogen. 

Temperature:  The Peconic Estuary has been hit with one environmental blow after another, a Stony Brook biologist and marine researcher said, in part because of rising temperatures in East End waterways. Since the midsummer local waters have been affected by rust tide, a type of algal growth that produces toxins harmful to marine life; mosquito fern, a plant that is covering parts of the Peconic River; and blue-green algae, which can be dangerous to humans and their pets. The blooms point to serious issues, said Christopher Gobler, associate dean of research at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. (Figures 6 & 7)

The most dangerous bloom is the blue-green algae, technically known as cyanobacteria, which was spotted in the upper Peconic River in Calverton and Riverhead, Mr. Gobler said. His lab found that water samples taken from the Peconic River showed levels of bacteria that were 10 times the safe limits set by the county health department. Those algae can prove dangerous because it produces microcystin, a toxin that can cause skin irritation in humans and serious harm to pets.

Rust tide was rarely spotted on the East End before 2004, Mr. Gobler said. At that time, temperatures in Peconic Bay rarely got close to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal growing temperature for the algae. But since then, water temperatures regularly exceed 75 degrees and the algal blooms have returned almost every summer. Rust tide, like its relative “mahogany tide”, has a distinctive color as well as a smell similar to “rotting ketchup,” Mr. Gobler said. However, it poses no threat to human swimmers, Mr. Schott said. “It’s kind of creepy,” he added. “The water has a distinct reddish tinge as you’re swimming around in it. But the blooms do pose threats to marine animal life, Mr. Gobler said. The sheer density of the blooms, which can spread over vast areas of open water, can tax the regional ecosystem.

At night, when the alga takes in oxygen, the mass of organisms can suck oxygen right out of the water. This creates dead zones where fish or other plant life can literally suffocate and die. The rust tide has other side effects on fish and shellfish as well, thanks to highly reactive chemical substances the algae release called “reactive oxygen series,” Mr. Gobler said. These short-lived compounds, also known as free radicals, “essentially destroy proteins that they’re exposed to,” he explained.

All living marine organisms have natural anti-oxidant mechanisms that filter out free radicals. But when assaulted by a dense cloud of the substances caused by the algal bloom, the marine life’s natural defenses are overwhelmed. That means a fish’s gills or vital parts of a shellfish can be fatally damaged, Mr. Gobler said. Though the free radicals themselves are invisible to the naked eye, Mr. Gobler said the red coloring of the water associated with rust tide is “tens of thousands of [algal] cells in a milliliter of water cranking out that stuff that does the damage.”

An unusual plant has spread across the water’s surface on the Peconic River near downtown Riverhead. The red-colored plants are called mosquito fern, Mr. Gobler said, and have coated much of the area. The mosquito fern can further retard water movement, which can lead to other types of algal growth, he said. The ferns also disrupt the natural habitat and can make it difficult for marine life to hunt prey. “These things are overgrowing what would be otherwise natural habitat,” he said. As the plant and algal growths spread, Mr. Gobler said there’s little to be done that can directly limit the blooms once they begin.  

Stormwater Runoff:  The Peconic Baykeeper provides that stormwater runoff from farms, roads, and outfall pipes impacts water quality and has resulted in the closure of 34,600 acres of shellfish beds 2,900 acres in the Peconic Estuary (14% of its productive shellfish area). 

Rainfall follows one of three pathways after reaching the ground:  it may infiltrate through the soil and eventually reach the water table to become groundwater; it may evaporate from the ground, or be taken up by plant roots and transpired through leaves, in both cases being returned to the atmosphere; or it may flow over the ground, moving downhill and eventually into a pond, river, bay, ocean or other waterbodies. 

The last scenario is called stormwater runoff, and includes not only precipitation from rain storms, but water from snowmelt as indicated by the Peconic Baykeeper. Stormwater runoff increases in developed areas with impervious surfaces such as roofs, paved driveways, sidewalks, and streets prevent stormwater from soaking into the ground, and greatly increase the volume of runoff.  As storm water travels over the ground it picks up and transports materials that it comes in contact with. These may be metals, gasoline, oil and pet waste on roads, and sediment, fertilizers and pesticides on lawns, landscaped areas and farmland. Stormwater runoff is a contributor of pathogens to the Peconic Estuary. The NYSDEC identified stormwater runoff as a pollutant in over 90% of the approximately 100 waterbody segments listed as impaired in the South Shore Estuary Reserve and the Peconic Estuary.

According to the Peconic Baykeeper’s the impacts of Stormwater Runoff are: groundwater recharge can be reduced, lowering water levels in streams and ponds;  sediments in runoff reduce water clarity, impacting aquatic vegetation and fisheries;  nutrients in runoff cause algal blooms, destroy aquatic habitats, and reduce dissolved oxygen levels; bacteria and other pathogens in runoff can result in swimming beach and shellfish bed closures; pesticides, paint, solvents, used motor oil, and other auto fluids in runoff can poison aquatic life.

Long Island Sound:  On April 11, 2016 it was announced that nearly half the wetlands along Long Island Sound in New York have disappeared in the last 130 years as published by the US Fish & Wildlife.  Wetlands serve several functions in the Sounds Ecosystem including providing critical habitat for bird and marine life and serving as buffers against flooding during a storm. “Wetland loss in the end… affect a lot of ecosystems aspects but it also very much so affects people,” said Georgia Basso, a biologist with the U.S. fish and Wildlife Service.  “We’re seeing more intense and more frequent storm events.  We need wetlands to buffer our coasts against the effects of climate change. Wetland loss diminishes their function to capture nitrogen and exacerbate the water quality impacts of existing nitrogen pollution sources and make it harder to reverse the trend.” (Figures 8 & 9)

As with the Peconic Estuary, the fish and other wildlife in the Western Sound and Smithtown Bay are facing the condition known as hypoxia every summer when dissolved oxygen levels drop to low levels. Hypoxia occurs in the Sound every summer when dissolved oxygen levels in bottom waters fall below 3 mg/L. Hypoxia forces some fish and invertebrates to scatter, while making others more susceptible to disease. When concentrations fall below 2 mg/L conditions become suffocating; marine life unable to flee may die. Since 1987, Long Island Sound Study (LISS) has tracked the area and duration of hypoxia. In 2007, hypoxia lasted 58 days, and at its peak affected 162 square miles—about four times the size of Manhattan.

Years of research, monitoring and modeling has helped the Long Island Sound Study to identify nitrogen sources in the Sound as a significant cause of decreased dissolved oxygen (DO) levels. In a process called eutrophication, excessive discharges of nutrients such as nitrogen fuel the growth of planktonic algae.

Development and increased population have resulted in the loss of coastal and inland wetlands, and eelgrass beds in the shallow, near-shore areas. These habitats provide a unique and highly productive ecosystem that supports an array of living resources.

As provided by the Long Island Sound Study, there have been many contaminants found in the Long Island Sound, they include inorganic compounds such as Cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc.  The organic compounds include chlordane, dieldrin, DDT, DDD, DDE, heptachlor, lindane, trans-nonachlor, PCBs and PAH.  These toxic substances enter the Sound’s waters as a result of natural processes and human activities.

Toxic substances affect the ecosystem.  Some substances in high concentrations can kill marine life. Other substances have a more subtle effecting marine life in terms of behavior, reproduction, or how they impact the key components of intricately balanced food webs. The net result could be a reduction in productivity and an imbalance in marine life communities towards pollution tolerant species. This factor is more pertinent to the condition or “health” of marine resource populations rather than to the health of seafood consumers.

Humans are affected because toxic substances in the Long Island Sound are often found at higher levels in organisms than in the water in which the organisms are found. This phenomenon, bioaccumulation, has special significance for seafood. Bioaccumulation taken into the organism exceeds the amount removed by excretion. Bioaccumulation can cause organisms to have higher levels of toxic substances in their tissues, and consequently may be a health risk to seafood consumers.  

Effects of Nitrogen on Fish, Shellfish and Turtles:  In 2015 many dead turtles washed up on the beaches. There was also a massive fish kill in the Peconic River due to little or no oxygen in the water because of nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen is the key culprit in a fish kill. The nutrient gets washed into the water supply by rain. Nitrogen can come from septic tanks, cesspools or fertilizers. The nitrogen then gets eaten by blooms of algae. The alga grows bigger and sucks oxygen out of the water at night. Algae, like all plants, use oxygen when the sun goes down and emits CO2.  Fish also need oxygenated water to survive and when the oxygen content reaches dangerously low levels, the fish die.

In May 2016 Hundreds of bunker, their mouths yawning open as they gasp for oxygenated water and to clean their gills, were filmed swimming in the Peconic River. It’s a sign that harmful algae bloom, known as mahogany tide, could soon cause another large fish kill in the river. The video was shot underwater off the banks of the Peconic River by marine biologist Chris Paparo.  “I was down there this morning and there was even more fish than there was yesterday,” Mr. Paparo said. The Town of Riverhead came up with an image management solution to lessen the chances of a huge fish die off in the Peconic River, due to little or no oxygen in the water. They contracted with local commercial anglers to remove thousands of bunkers before images could be reported of massive numbers of dead fish landing on beaches and floating dead in the water.  

In August of 2016 David Gruner, who visits the same private beach on the Long Island Sound in

Jamesport for more than 50 years, witnessed something he’d never seen before.  He found the shoreline of the beach covered in mussels “as far as the eye can see.” Mr. Gruner, a Jamesport resident, estimated there are “hundreds of thousands” of mussels lining the shore between Iron Pier Beach in Jamesport and United Riverhead Terminal in Northville, about a 1.7-mile stretch of beach. He said the mussels were not there when he left the beach the day before, and guessed they’d come in with the high tide later that night. The smell on Wednesday afternoon, as the shellfish dried in the heat, was worse than in the early evening, Mr. Gruner said.  

Christopher Gobler, associate dean and researcher with the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said such an incident has two likely causes: high temperatures or rust tide. He said blue mussels “cannot handle high temperatures” and rust tide is lethal in bivalves. 

Trees and Watersheds:  Trees cool the air; land and water with shade and moisture, thus reducing the heat island effect of our communities. According to the NC State University, Department of Horticulture Science, a single tree can produce the cooling effect of 10 room size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.  One large tree can supply a day’s supply of oxygen for four people.  A healthy tree can store 13 pounds of carbon each year which reduces the “greenhouse effect”, for an acre of trees that equals to 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide.  Trees help reduce surface water runoff, decrease soil erosion and increase ground water recharge.  Keeping and planting new trees keeps our estuary cooler, and reduces the heat island effect of our communities. It may also help reduce algae bloom because they depend on water temperatures of 75 degrees Fahrenheit and above which have been seen on the North Fork since 2004.  

At our Town’s level, we cannot control the drought or the majority of warming climate.  We do have the ability to control the nitrogen pollution, storm water runoffs, paving, and density that cause our drinking water to become: polluted, our bays to die, inhibit or stop the growth of seagrass, kill our fish and turtles, and destroy our ecosystems.  Our town also has the ability to protect our watersheds which are shrinking as we speak. 

Many of our neighbors concur with Peconic Green Growth, Inc. that there is an urgent need for our government to reexamine current regulations, reevaluate standard oversight roles, and to consider a more proactive stance relative to the management of waste water treatment.  Your role is crucial in terms of regional future sustainability, survival, food, economics and quality of life.  Our Town needs to protect water quality with the long view in mind.  Mitigation goals need to be followed with actions.  Our town must be mindful not to introduce a solution that is not adequate to protect our estuary’s water quality.  At this time there are no septic systems or cesspool solutions that could produce 0 nitrogen.  Any systems available are cumbersome for home owners, are expensive and carry continued costs.  Drinking water maximum standards are 10mg/L for nitrogen levels, while marine life needs more stringent nitrogen levels recommended by the TMDL of .4 mg/L. 

Conclusions:  Our Town also has the ability to stop destruction of our watersheds, keep open space and protect our trees.   Keeping and planting new trees keeps our estuary cooler, and reduces the heat island effect of our communities. It may also help reduce algae bloom. 

We, the people, have degraded our waterways for a very long time.  Based upon many scientific studies we are at a critical point now.  We cannot wait – remedial action is needed now. There must be a comprehensive set of water quality and ecological goals and solutions implemented based upon our current pollution and density.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in December of 2015 that New York’s current efforts to reduce the nitrogen pollution from septic systems and cesspools, which accounted for most nitrogen pollution, would not be enough. 

We must pause; protect our drinking water and estuary with viable solutions that will strive to produce the goal of the Sanitation Code for drinking water of 4-6 mg/L and .4 mg/L as recommended in order for our estuaries to survive.

 

Recapping some of our environmental challenges

These environmental issues have been scientifically verified and are problematic at our current population and density:

 

  • Degraded water quality - In just eighteen years aquifers have displayed significant increases in nitrogen concentrations with a 39% increase in the Upper Glacial, and nearly double in the deeper Magothy Aquifer. The County’s evaluation of the nitrate levels in the public wells was extended to 2013 and found the nitrate levels continuing to rise, representing a 41% increase in the Upper Glacial Aquifer

  • Suffolk county Water Authority launched the first major water conservation initiative in its history in the three east end towns in order to limit spending on water treatment and demand for new wells.  Treatments are highly expensive. 

  • The healthier waters in Orient also display stressed, even chronic conditions, during late summer and early fall.

  • Newsday reported that 1,4-dioxane had been found in 71% of water districts sampled on Long Island at a level that could pose a cancer risk after prolonged exposure. 

  • The Nature conservancy found that onsite systems contributed 7 ½ time the nitrogen load of fertilizer to ground water in the Peconic Estuary. 

  • Nitrogen levels detected in the coastal waters along the north shore of the Peconic Estuary exceed the total maximum daily load (TMDL) concentrations. This is a reflection of the high levels of nitrogen detected in groundwater on the North Fork.  

  • Excess nitrogen impacts eel grass survival and weakens the root systems of wetland grasses. Their decline impacts marine life habitats as well as reduces their usefulness as buffers to the built environment from storm impacts.

  • Excess levels of nitrogen are harming the salt marshes on Long Island.

  • Nitrogen Pollution levels in the aquifers are increasing at an alarming rate. The North Fork (Riverhead and Southold, NY) has some of the highest levels of nitrogen detected in groundwater in Suffolk County.

  • Oxygen levels are much worse than anticipated. This was even a surprise to Mr. Gobler.   

  • Rust tides, a type of algae growth that produces toxins harmful to marine life are caused by excessive nitrogen pollution.  

  • Mosquito ferns, a plant that is covering parts of the Peconic River disrupts the natural habitat and can make it difficult for marine life to hunt prey.  

  • Blue-green algae can be dangerous to humans and their pets are caused by excessive nitrogen pollution. 

  • Drought conditions- Numerous wells tested across Suffolk County are running “below normal” to “much below normal,” Some private wells became no longer useable. Streams are also flowing weakly. 

  • Water temperatures have been above 75 degrees Fahrenheit which impacts algae bloom. 

  • Stormwater runoff is a contributor of pathogens to the Peconic Estuary These include metals, gasoline, oil and pet waste on roads, and sediment, fertilizers and pesticides on lawns, landscaped areas and farmland and has contributed in the closure of 2,900 acres in the Peconic Estuary.  

  • Stormwater runoff is caused by increased density, driveways and parking lots.

  • Turtle kill caused by a biotoxin that causes paralyzing shellfish poisoning caused by high nitrogen levels.

  • 2015 -Dead bunker fish along the shorelines, one of the largest fish killed in recent memory, produced by lack of oxygen in the water caused by an algae bloom fed by nitrogen.

  • 2016- Commercial anglers removed hundreds of thousands of bunkers to alleviate massive numbers of dead fish landing on beaches and floating dead in the water in order to avoid a repeat public relations nightmare due to the Peconic fish kill.   

  • 2016 The shoreline was found covered in mussels “as far as the eye can see. The two likely causes are high temperatures or rust tide.

 

[1] Written and reported March 2017 by Jo-Ann Lechner, Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association. Reference materials:  Long Island

Sound Study, Newsday, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, New York Times, NC State University, Department of Horticulture Science, Peconic Bay Keepers, Peconic Estuary Program, Peconic Green Growth, Inc., Riverhead News Review, Save the Sound, Suffolk County Department of Health Services, The Peconic Estuary Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (2001), The Suffolk Times, US Environmental Protection Agency, Federal DEC, and as cited.