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Source: North Fork Patch

New Report Identifies Sources of Nitrogen Loading in Local Waters

Stormwater runoff, drainage, septic system seepage, cesspools and failing wastewater treatment systems are culprits, the report says.


Posted: December 30, 2016
Originally Published: December 23, 2016

A new report has pinpointed sources of nitrogen loading in local waters.

The New York Department of State released the Long Island South Shore Estuary Reserve water quality report on Wednesday, which identifies sources of pollution in eastern bays and takes a closer look at ways to improving the environmental health of local waters, a release said.

Nitrogen sources identified in the report include stormwater runoff, drainage or seepage — including seepage from septic systems and cesspools. Other sources include failing or inadequate on-site wastewater treatment systems discharging to the bays, the report says.

The report used widely accepted methods to estimate nitrogen sources in the water and provides a series of recommended steps to better understand and manage nitrogen loading.

The “Long Island South Shore Estuary Reserve Eastern Bays Project: Nitrogen Loading, Sources, and Management Options” report was completed in cooperation with Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and is an important step in estimating the amount of nitrogen that causes water degradation to the South Shore of Long Island, officials said.

“The state of our water quality is an extremely important matter that we have taken very seriously in Suffolk County during my administration,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. "Not only do we drink the water that is beneath our feet, but our water is a significant factor that continues to affect our local economy, tourism, environment and overall quality of life in Suffolk County."

Last year, Bellone said, the Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan "identified nitrogen as one of the leading culprits to the decline of our water and provided critical recommendations as how to best manage and protect the region’s water supply. We will continue to work with Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York State and our community leaders and experts to fully turn the tide and reclaim our water.”

Others applauded the report as a critical tool moving forward. "As Suffolk County navigates through the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, this study should provide the basis for taking concrete, data-based managerial steps to improve water quality within the eastern extent of the South Shore Estuary Reserve," said Dr. Christopher Gobler of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

“The health of the water of the South Shore Estuary is the cornerstone of the region’s economy,” said New York Secretary of the State Rossana Rosado, who is also the Chair of the Estuary Reserve Council.

The report supports the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, already underway by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Suffolk County, Nassau County and the Long Island Regional Planning Council, the release said.

“Once again science confirms wastewater from on-site septics and cesspools to be the major contributor to poor water quality in our bays,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “This is more cutting edge science that identifies the imperative need for county, state, and local planning process to battle nitrogen, construct sewers around the Forge River, and establish a perpetual funding mechanism to pay for the solutions. This problem will not solve itself and will only get worse by inaction."

Excess nitrogen has led to an increase in algal blooms, a reduction in seagrass beds that provide habitat for shellfish and finfish and a host of other water quality impairments. The nitrogen pollution has also contributed to the decline of shellfish and commercial fishing on Long Island, the report said.

Nitrogen loading has also exacerbated rust tide events, Gobler said.

Management options identified in the report include refinement of nitrogen loading models to better identify study areas, the harvesting of seaweed for nitrogen removal, and the planting of hard clams and eastern oysters to facilitate implementation of the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan.

Those avenues will help Suffolk County's efforts to identify suitable locations for innovative on-site wastewater treatment systems to reduce the amount of nitrogen reaching South Shore bays, the release said.

The report is available online here.