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Source: Riverhead Local

An urgent call for action to protect island's water quality


Posted: October 17, 2013
Originally Published: October 16, 2013

Environmental advocates from groups forming the Long Island Clean Water Partnership.

Environmental advocates gather at the county center yesterday, from left, Bob DeLuca, Group for the East end; Richard Amper, Long Island Pine Barrens Society; Kevin McDonald, The Nature Conservancy; Adrienne Esposito, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Environmental advocates from groups forming the Long Island Clean Water Partnership appeared at the Riverhead County Center Tuesday to call for action from politicians to reverse declining water quality on Long Island.

"We've laid out very clearly what each level of government can do to play their role in protecting the resource," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "We have laid it out legislatively, policy-wise, some of it doesn't even cost money, and they will be able to do this if there was a political will. There's a public will. Now we need to translate the public will into that political will."

Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End, said a few factors combined recently to reveal a need for urgent action. A draft version of Suffolk County’s Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan showed a decline in water quality despite efforts to improve it, DeLuca said. Research out of Stony Brook University has shown how nitrogen from sewage systems is affecting surface waters, and the impact on the entire Great South Bay, which DeLuca said proves water quality issues are an island-wide problem.

With Esposito and DeLuca were Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, and Kevin McDonald, conservation manager of The Nature Conservancy.

Amper said a letter had been sent to "scores" of government officials at the state, county and town levels that serves as a blueprint for what actions can be taken to combat issues like pesticide contamination, algae blooms and shrinking open land acreage.

McDonald said three changes are necessary at the state level: a new entity is needed to better manage all of Long Island's water resources, a new standard for pollutants that identifies and regulates chemicals that are being linked to harmful imbalances in the environment, and the need for a major water plan that can "reset the table" for how residents, government policy and industry behavior affect the region's water supply.

The standard for pollutants is necessary "so that we don't continue putting nitrogen and other chemicals in our groundwater that affects our surface water, and then act as if that's OK because we don't have a standard that says it's not," McDonald said.

Esposito called for Suffolk County to implement the Water Resources Management Plan, which she said has been years in the making but has yet to be finalized and released. She also called for the restaffing of the County's Division of Environmental Quality and a renewed commitment by the County to buying land for preservation.

Esposito said that while Suffolk County has room to improve, it is ahead of Nassau County, which has no equivalent of the Water Resources Management Plan.

DeLuca said specific water protection plans are needed for each town, as well as committees in each town to focus on those plans.

"There's lots of good recommendations that are in many town studies, but they're not able to be implemented because they get buried amidst all the other priorities," DeLuca said, adding that towns need to act in concert to fix issues that don't respect town boundaries.

He called on local governments to reexamine all land use, zoning, wetlands and other environmental protection regulations to gauge their ability to address the problems being seen. DeLuca proposed such measures as watershed improvement districts, for which he said state legislation is already in place to allow for.

Amper said problems that affect the area's waterways and coasts affect tourism, and therefore the economy. He added that the improvement effort itself will necessitate new industry and job growth.

Esposito said that funding water quality improvement efforts now is more economical than later.

"It is cheaper and safer to protect clean water than it is to clean up polluted water," she said.