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Source: The Wall Street Journal, Metropolis Blog

Long Island Partnership to Combat Polluted Waters


Posted: September 11, 2013
Originally Published: September 10, 2013

Long Island environmental groups are banding together to stem the flow of nitrogen into the region’s groundwater and bays.

The initiative announced Tuesday follows what environmentalists are calling the worst year on record for ecological problems related to nitrogen, a nutrient that feeds algal blooms blamed for devastating much of the island’s marine life over the last three decades.

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership is led by four well-established groups: Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Long Island Pine Barrens Society, the Nature Conservancy and Group for the East End.

The partnership plans to spend about $3 million over the next three years on a public-education campaign consisting of television and radio commercials, door-to-door canvassing and meetings with civic groups.

“This is a huge, multi-million dollar, multi-year campaign and before it’s over, everybody will be 5,000 percent more aware of the water problem,” said Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society.

The partnership has already started lobbying politicians for stricter water-quality standards and has met with developers to advocate for the use of newer septic systems, members said. The group began airing a 30-second television commercial this week.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the partnership must work to unify policy among Long Island’s many governmental entities. The island’s government is divided into two counties, two cities, 13 towns and dozens of villages that have different environmental regulations, she said. “They’re all over the map and they’re all different and they’re all failing,” she said.

Scientists believe nitrogen pollution flows from underground septic systems and fertilizers. The nutrient seeps through groundwater into the island’s bays, where it fuels algal blooms that discolor water, block out sunlight and kill seagrass beds that finfish and shellfish use as nurseries. The problem has worsened as the island has developed.

This summer, an algal bloom turned much of Long Island’s Great South Bay a brownish color. A toxic blue-green algae appeared in three bodies of water: Lake Ronkonkoma, Mill Pond and Lake Agawam. And an algae contaminated shellfish in Northport Harbor, Huntington Harbor and Sag Harbor Cove with a dangerous neurotoxin. High nitrogen levels have also been blamed for rotting mounds of seaweed washing up on some beaches.

“We just had the worst summer ever with pollution,” Ms. Esposito said. “So with all of the success we have had with land preservation, with estuary programs, with stormwater runoff mitigation, with all of the programs that have been implemented over the last 20 years, we’re losing the battle of the bays. Our bays are dying.”

The partnership wants New York state to lower acceptable groundwater nitrogen levels on Long Island from 10 parts per million to two or less. It also advocates the expansion of sewers and the use of newer septic systems that treat waste. And it seeks to educate people about pollution-mitigation measures they can take at home.

“All of this is sort of a ‘death of a thousand cuts’ sort of pollution that really the region is suffering from,” said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End. “So we’re going to help people to understand those systems.”