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Protect Long Island Drinking and Surface Waters from Nitrogen Pollution

Excessive nitrogen pollution from sewage has caused massive fish kills, turtle die offs, and toxic algae blooms, closing beaches and water bodies around Long Island. Nitrogen pollution threatens our environment, health, economy, and quality of life. Long Island's clean waters create jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars every year for our regional economy. We need to take immediate action to reduce nitrogen pollution from sewage.

What's Causing Excessive Nitrogen?

Nitrogen pollution in water is directly tied to development patterns, land use trends, fertilizer use, failing sewers, residential cesspools, and septic systems. In short—the majority of nitrogen is from sewage. Scientists agree that harmful toxic tides are being fueled by nitrogen from wastewater, including septic tanks and cesspools.

Toxic Tides Found on Long Island

  • Brown Tide: Brown Tide is not toxic to humans, but does poison marine life and block sunlight from reaching undersea vegetation, reducing the food available to fish and shellfish. Brown Tide has plagued Long Island bays since 1985, when it nearly wiped out the local bay scallop population. High concentrations of Brown Tide also threaten marine plants.
  • Red Tide (PSP): Red Tide has appeared in Long Island waters every year since it first surfaced in 2004. The Red Tide organism, Alexandrium fundyense, synthesizes a powerful toxin that accumulates in shellfish and may bring on a condition known as Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) that can be fatal to humans.
  • Red Tide (DSP): Another Red Tide organism, Dinophysis acuminata, produces a toxin that can cause stomach sickness in humans who ingest infected shellfish known as Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP). In 2010, the levels of this toxin found in Northport Harbor were, at the time, higher than levels seen anywhere else in the world.
  • Mahogany Tide: Mahogany Tide is an emerging "red tide" caused by the organism Prorocentrum minimum. Blooms can severely reduce the amount of oxygen available in the water, potentially resulting in local fish kills, invertebrate kills and loss of habitat causing fish to move from the area.
  • Rust Tide: Rust Tide is an emerging "red tide" caused by the organism Cochlodinium polykrikoides. First noted in Suffolk County waters in 2004, it causes intense and widespread reddish-brown blooms that have been coined locally as the "rust tide". The organism has been found to be lethal to multiple species and life stages of fish and shellfish.
  • Macro Algae Blooms: Macro-Algae blooms, also known as seaweed or sea lettuce, frequently accumulate in thick decomposing mats on the western Long Island beaches and can smother sea grass and other near-shore habitats on the bay bottom.
  • Blue Green Algae: Blue-green algae are microscopic bacteria found in freshwater lakes, streams, ponds and brackish water ecosystems. They can produce toxins that affect people, wildlife, and pets that swim in and drink from the algae-contaminated water. Blue-green algae grow and colonize to form "blooms" that give the water a blue-green appearance or a "pea soup" like color.

Arising Problems

While groundwater with nitrogen concentrations above 10mg/liter is toxic to humans, coastal ecosystems are far more sensitive to nitrogen. Symptoms of nitrogen pollution attributed to sewage and stormwater runoff are apparent in most bays and harbors around Long Island. When bays, harbors, and coastal waters receive more nitrogen than healthy ecosystems can process, the result is harmful algal blooms (HABs) comprised of microscopic plant-like organisms.The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation cites algal blooms and excessive nitrogen as the primary reasons many of Long Island's water bodies are impaired. Moreover, some HABs pose a serious threat to human health. These toxic algal blooms, often referred to as Red Tide or Brown Tide, can spread hazardous toxins, kill fish, and seriously impair water quality.

Nitrogen Contamination Must Be Reduced To Protect Long Island Water Quality

In the spring of 2015, Governor Cuomo and the NYS Legislature allocated $5 million to create a plan that will tackle Long Island's nitrogen pollution problem. This plan will identify critical projects, including upgrades to sewage and septic systems, which are necessary to protect our water resources and our communities. The creation of this plan has been undertaken by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC). In June of 2016, the NYS DEC released its scoping document for the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP), which will serve as a guiding document for drafting a comprehensive LINAP.

This is a great step forward! However, the longer we wait to implement these projects, the more expensive and difficult it will be to fix our water quality problems. The LINAP needs to be finalized and implemented as quickly as possible to fix our nitrogen pollution problem. We are calling upon the DEC to release the Draft LINAP by the spring of 2017 to ensure meaningful public input and rapid implementation, and also to identify opportunities for addressing other threats to water quality, such as VOCs (volatile organic compounds), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), and pesticides. The LINAP should identify funding sources for implementation, which is critical to the success of the plan.

Updated by hsomma 6/30/16