Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: LI Herald

We all have a role to play in keeping our water clean


Posted: September 23, 2016
Originally Published: September 22, 2016

Clean drinking water, a swim in the bay, catching fish to eat and going to the beach are things we easily take for granted as Long Islanders. Many of us live here because we love living near the water. Our bays and ocean offer us abundant recreational opportunities and special, life-enhancing activities.

I grew up on the South Shore. As a child, I had one foot on land and one in the water — with a fishing pole in one hand and a crab trap in the other.

But in the year 2016, our life by the water is imperiled. Too much nitrogen from sewage is entering our coastal waters. The state Department of Environmental Conservation and scientists at Stony Brook University site nitrogen from inadequately treated sewage as the primary reason many of Long Island’s water bodies are impaired. Antiquated sewage treatment plants, old septic tanks and cesspools are allowing this nitrogen to pollute our waters. When our coastal waters and freshwater bodies receive more nitrogen than healthy ecosystems can process, the result is harmful algae blooms, beach closures and fish kills.

Brown tide has plagued South Shore waters since 1985. Mahogany tide, caused by a species of algae that is rust-colored instead of brown, is newer to our area, but blooms this year were pronounced. Neither is toxic to humans, but both kill shellfish and adversely impact fin fish populations.

Have you noticed more seaweed along the shore? That’s also due to nitrogen pollution. Macroalgal blooms, also known as seaweed or sea lettuce, accumulate in thick, decomposing mats that release hydrogen sulfide. This is harmful to public health.

The good news is that there are solutions. One major pollution source is the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, which processes over 40 percent of Nassau County’s sewage. Fortunately, the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Operation SPLASH and others have long advocated for denitrification technology to be used at the facility. Nassau County agreed, and is in the process of installing state-of-the-art nitrogen-removal equipment, which will be a huge improvement.

We are also advocating for the treated sewage to be discharged into the ocean rather than Reynolds Channel, where the effluent is directed into the Western Bays. The bays are home to the largest concentration of salt marshes along the South Shore, which provide critical habitat for birds and marine species, and act as buffers for the mainland against storms and hurricanes. We are closer than ever to achieving an ocean outfall option, and we continue to work with Nassau County to get it done.

Bay Park isn’t the only culprit: 30 percent of Nassau County residents still use cesspools or septic tanks. These old systems aren’t designed to treat sewage or other toxins. Their contents leach into the ground, contaminating groundwater in aquifers, underground geologic formations of permeable rock and unconsolidated gravel, sand, pebbles or silt. Water is captured and stored in aquifers, and they are our source of drinking water. In fact, Long Island gets 100 percent of its drinking water from underground.

That’s right: We live directly atop our water supply. Consequently, the choices we make in our homes and yards impact our water quality. Whether you have a cesspool or are connected to a sewage treatment facility, your actions matter.

Our island’s drinking and coastal waters are intrinsically linked. Water from the aquifers travels underground and leaches into harbors and bays, carrying with it pollutants such as pesticides, industrial contaminates, pharmaceutical drugs, household chemicals and more.

What can you do to make a difference?
• Don’t use pesticides. According to the DEC, there are 117 pesticides detected in our groundwater. Switch to organic lawn care methods.

• Stop over-fertilizing. Our obsession with green lawns fuels algae-laden brown tides.

• Don’t flush unused or expired medications. Trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are being detected in drinking water sources across the nation, including Long Island. Find a pharmacy that will take back your unused drugs and properly dispose of them for free. Your morning coffee should contain cream and sugar, not a hit of antibiotics and Lipitor.

• Don’t use cleaning products that contain toxic chemicals. Volatile chemicals are showing up throughout our aquifer system, and they aren’t coming just from industry. Household cleaners and even detergents can contain toxics. Read the labels carefully. Chose green cleaning products.

These simple steps will help protect our heath and the health of our water resources.

Adrienne Esposito is executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.