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Algal Blooms Are Lethal to Pets

Protecting our four-legged friends

Spend summer on Long Island and you’re likely to see dogs in parks and on beaches just as much as people. Long Islanders love this extra time outdoors with their four-legged friends. The pups do, too. But are they really safe? As concerns of toxic algal blooms plague our fresh and saltwater bodies each year, dogs are just as at risk as we are. 

A recent article in The New York Times details reports from dog owners across the country that have reported their pets becoming fatally ill after swimming in and ingesting water filled with toxic blue-green algae. These blooms thrive in summer months when the temperatures are warmer. While the sights and smells of algae are apparent to humans, keeping most out of these polluted waters, “animals sometimes lap up the water, ingest floating pieces of algae or snap at floating algal balloons. They could fall fatally ill after licking their wet fur. Toxic algae can also dry up into crusts onshore, where dogs might nibble on them.”

Algal blooms killing dogs is nothing new. In 2012, a dog died after drinking water in East Hampton’s Georgica Pond that was laden with blue-green algae. The following year, there were two more reports of dog deaths from swimming in these toxic waters in Southampton. When reports of these blooms appear in our waters, killing shellfish and making people sick, we should also take extra care in ensuring our pets stay away from these waters, too. The science is increasingly clear that a major cause of our region’s water quality problems is tied to outdated and failing septic systems.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Beach and lake closures should not be the norm. We live on an island and are surrounded by water! It drives the local economy, tourism, fisheries, and more. At the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, we are committed to finding solutions to our water quality problems to protect and restore our waters for the future. Alternatives now exist to better treat our sewage and protect our waters. For more information about how you can qualify for financial assistance to replace your old septic system, click here.

Join us to ensure your drinking water is safe now and for generations to come!

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Long Island Can Turn the Ugly Tide

Members of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership applaud Suffolk County and the Department of Health Services for its new Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan, released today for public comment. The comprehensive study is a blueprint for solving the nitrogen crisis. It is the first science-based study to examine more than 180 watersheds across the county and establish clean water targets for each. Check out this great editorial by Newsday on the subject!

Newsday Editorial - August 3, 2019
By The Editorial Board

On Long Island, we find ourselves drawn to the water that surrounds us. It calls us, and we seek it out.

The water is a place to swim and boat, to fish and surf, to paddle and sail. We walk and bike along its shore, stretch out before it to read a good book, and eat dinner while gazing at its moonlit beauty. For some of us, it’s a place of work. For most of us, it’s a place to play. It’s a magnet for tourists and a sanctuary for our overworked and overstressed selves.

But over the years, we’ve treated it badly — mostly, by dumping nitrogen in it. Some of that comes from the fertilizers we use on our lawns and crops. A little comes from the air. But most of it comes from the cesspools and septic tanks that inadequately filter the wastewater we produce at home and at work.

We know all this. The science is rock solid.

We also know what excess nitrogen has done to our water.

It has fueled the algal blooms that have decimated our shellfishing industry. It has killed much of the eel grass that makes up the marshlands that protect us from storms. It has depleted oxygen levels, creating dead zones in which fish cannot survive, as in three big fish kills in the Peconic River in 2015. It can turn some lakes, like Agawam Lake in Southampton and Lake Ronkonkoma, so toxic that swimming and other activities in them are banned.

It’s taken a long time, and lots of studies and public education, but most Long Islanders understand well the region’s nitrogen problem.

They also understand that something must be done to address it.

So we welcome a new report from Suffolk County that lays out the problem in exacting detail, analyzing the nitrogen at 191 individual sites called watersheds — surface water, not drinking water, though nitrogen levels are creeping up in some wells, too. Have a look online. The report checks the box for scientific rigor, and confirms what we’ve seen with our own eyes. It also charts a sensible plan forward.

And while it makes a compelling case for acting with urgency, it also offers optimism — that by taking the appropriate steps starting now, and moving steadily forward, we can reverse the trend of increasing nitrogen within 10 years.

A study of Nassau’s North Shore by Stony Brook University shows similar nitrogen issues, and it should serve as a catalyst for that county to take similar steps. 

Suffolk’s strategy is a familiar one, put into overdrive. It calls for targeting homes not connected to sewers — some 360,000, nearly 75 percent of all homes in the county.

That makes sense; one study of the Great South Bay shows that nearly 70 percent of the nitrogen there comes from unsewered homes.

Some of these homes would be connected to sewers where density makes that feasible. Thanks to public votes this year in favor of sewer expansions, some $360 million in federal and state grants will be spent to connect roughly 7,000 homes in Babylon Town, Oakdale and Mastic. That’s a great start toward the project’s eventual goal of 30,000.

The county proposes to complement that by expanding its efforts to work with homeowners to replace cesspools and septic systems with innovative high-tech systems far more effective at removing nitrogen from wastewater. Wisely, it would begin with homes in high priority areas where it takes the least amount of time for groundwater nitrogen to reach our lakes, rivers, harbors and bays.

Suffolk created its program from scratch, testing and approving alternative systems, training staff and installers, getting state money for grants to help homeowners make the pricey conversions, which can cost up to $20,000. With 262 units installed or approved under the grant program, it’s time to ramp up and the numbers in the plan are big — 172,000 replacements over the next 30 years at an average annual cost of $65 million per year. More will be swapped out in the years after that.

With near-universal buy-in on the need to attack the nitrogen problem, the big question now is where to get the money. Some state funding is available, but a recurring source of revenue is needed.

The preferred solution is to put a fee on water usage above what’s typically used for essential needs. Suffolk County residents would have to vote on a referendum to set such a fee, estimated at about $75 a year for the average homeowner. Getting such a proposition on the 2020 ballot likely will require action by county and state lawmakers, but too many of them have ducked the issue.

It’s time to take a stand. Lawmakers should either let Suffolk residents vote on the county’s proposal to fund the war on nitrogen, or offer their own plan. Neither silence or obstruction are options.

This is a key moment. We either work to put a plan into action and reverse what’s been happening, or continue to watch our waters degrade.

If you’re wondering whether Suffolk can afford to tackle the problem, look at the water all around you and ask yourself the real question:

How can we afford not to?
For more information about the plan click here.

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Setting Health Standards for Emerging Contaminants

State Department of Health lowers maximum contaminant levels

News of emerging contaminants in New York waters is nothing new, yet many such contaminants often remain unregulated. Just recently, a report from the New York Public Interest Research Group announced the findings of a three-year study that found Long Island has the highest concentration of dangerous chemicals like 1,4-dioxane, PFOS, and PFOA in the state. Now, the State Department of Health is taking action and lowering the maximum contaminant levels for these chemicals. 

In a recent Southampton Press news article discussing the impact of these chemicals in East End communities such as Wainscott, Sagaponack, Hampton Bays, East Quogue and Westhampton, New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele pointed out that the federal government did not previously have a standard for these chemicals, rather just a health advisory level.

“’All over the state, the emergence of these contaminants in our drinking water supply and their harmful effects are becoming an increasingly unacceptable reality,’ the assemblyman wrote in the letter, adding that the contaminants have been linked to several potentially life-threatening conditions, such as cancer’” the article reads.  

Further monitoring and regulation of these contaminants has won the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who  wants to ensure there is regular testing and fixing of water systems in an effort to mitigate public health risks. Under the new regulations, public water suppliers will be required to test and monitor their water supply quarterly as opposed to annually as required by the Suffolk County Department of Health. Learn more about what these contaminants are here.

Emerging contaminants are just one of many threats facing Long Island waters. At the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, we are committed to finding solutions to our water quality problems including the critical long term funding that will be required to protect and restore our waters for the future. Join us to ensure your drinking water is safe now and for generations to come. Click here to learn more.

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New York State Legislature Passes Environmental Legislation

Good news from Albany!  The New York State Legislature has come to a close and with it, the passage of four important pieces of environmental legislation.

Climate Change

The New York State Legislature passed a groundbreaking piece of legislation this June, aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change in New York.  This climate action plan is the most ambitious in the United States.

The bill, the “Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA),” requires net-zero emissions by 2050 and 70% renewable energy by 2030. The goal is effectively to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and replace those sources with cleaner, renewable energy.

The CLCPA set up a process to create a scoping plan, with guidance by a new 22-member Climate Action Council. The Council will report on current greenhouse gas emissions and progress, and adjust its plan as needed, every four years.

The bill also focuses on “climate justice” – directing 40 percent of all state investments in climate and clean energy to “disadvantaged communities,” areas most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Banning Toxic Chemicals

State lawmakers also passed a bill that would limit 1,4-dioxane in household products, to be effective at the end of 2022. 1,4-dioxane is an emerging contaminant that has been found in Long Island drinking water wells. It is more prevalent in Long Island’s water than anywhere else in the state and is classified by the EPA as a “likely carcinogen.”  The chemical is difficult and expensive to treat.

Another bill bans PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances), commonly used in firefoating foam, from being used or manufactured in New York. PFAS is a toxic chemical that has been linked to liver problems, low birth weight, some cancers and other health issues.  It has been detected in groundwater supplies at several sites across Long Island.

Water Pollution Lawsuits

And finally, state lawmakers passed a bill that would allow public water authorities to take water polluters to court in New York.  Water authorities would low have three years to sue polluters once contamination is detected, instead of when the contamination occurred.

These pieces of legislation would make great strides for the protection of our air, land and water. These important bills now await a signature from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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Blue-Green Algae Blooms Hit Southampton and East Hampton

A range of threats to Long Island’s waters

Before summer officially begins some Long Island residents are already being told not to swim or wade in certain waters. Mill Pond in Southampton and Wainscott Pond in East Hampton have been found with harmful cyanobacteria blooms, also known as blue-green algae, according to a sampling by Stony Brook University. Families in the area have been told to keep their pets and children away as contact with the water can lead to various illnesses like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, skin, eye or throat irritation, or allergic reactions or breathing difficulties.

There are many threats to Long Island’s waters, including storm water runoff, which can wash fertilizers, pesticides, household cleaners, and motor oil from lawns, driveways, and streets into local streams and sewer systems, and failing and leaky septic systems that pollute our waters. Both can contribute to these toxic algal blooms that now show up regularly even in the bucolic, less densely developed areas of Long Island, and which remain a constant threat to our health and the environment.

Nitrogen from wastewater is one of the leading culprits of contamination, yet is controllable. There are several programs the Long Island Clean Water Partnership has helped to put in place to allow homeowners to upgrade or replace these systems with advanced wastewater treatment systems that can substantially reduce nitrogen pollution. Water is part of every Long Islander’s everyday life and we need to clean up what’s been polluted and protect it for future generations. Learn more about replacing your septic system by checking out Reclaim Our Water and joining the Long Island Clean Water Partnership!

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Long Island’s Drinking Water Found to be Most Contaminated in State

NYPIRG Releases Report on Statewide Contamination

During the week of Memorial Day, the New York Public Interest Research Group announced findings that were, perhaps, unsurprising to many Long Islanders. A study conducted on emerging contaminants throughout New York State found that Long Island has the highest concentration of dangerous chemicals in the state.

Using data collected between 2013 and 2016, the report’s primary conclusion was that one or more emerging contaminants are currently a direct threat to the drinking water supplies of 16 million New Yorkers. For Long Island, a total of 19 emerging contaminants were found to exist, including strontium, chlorate and chromium-6 and 1,4-dioxane, both likely carcinogens. Nassau County had the greatest share of contaminated areas on the island.

For those unfamiliar with “emerging contaminants”, these compounds are either only recently known, only recently detectable with available science or previously had not been present. Most frequently, emerging contaminants originate from industry, including spills and the disposal of wastewater or from personal care products. The emerging contaminant Long Islanders are likely most familiar with is 1,4-dioxane. It is believed that Long Island has the greatest concentrations of 1,4-dioxane in the entire country as a result of the past presence of the chemical in paints, primers and inks. Today, an estimated 46 percent of personal care products are found to have 1,4-dioxane present. 1,4-dioxane is known as a Synthetic Organic Compound as it is not a naturally occurring substance.

While this report certainly confirmed many Long Islanders’ fears on the declining quality of the island’s drinking water, it is important to note that most communities on Long Island do not have contaminated water. As Stony Brook Professor and Partnership member Dr. Christopher Gobler noted while speaking to Newsday, however, “It's a misnomer to lump all of Long Island's drinking water into a single category. If you were to do an honest comparison of the data for the water that Long Islanders drink, you'll find plenty of supplies that compare favorably with New York City." The most notable area of pure drinking water on Long Island is the Long Island Pine Barrens.

Overall, this report provides a drastic call to action for Long Islanders to join in the work of reversing the trend of declining water quality. Without continued efforts to improve the island’s environment, daily life in many communities will be irreparably changed forever. All life depends on clean and safe drinking water. We must make our efforts worthy of this fact.

For those interested in reading the NYPIRG’s full report, please visit nypirg.org. For more information on ways you can help save Long Island’s drinking water, check out our Take Action page. 

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Filtering Foods That Clean Up Our Waters

An increased need for innovative measures

Water quality has an impact on our environment, health, and economy. As every major bay, estuary, and harbor on Long Island is at risk, scientists have been working to determine new ways that can help address what continues to grow as a local and national crisis. For years, oysters have been thought of as a possible solution in some areas to help clean up our waters. But, these filter feeding bivalves, which have a tremendous benefit to the local economy, have also fallen victim to worsening water quality. Experimenting with a new aquaculture crop, Stony Brook University researchers and local farmers are beginning to harvest sugar kelp that had been planted in Moriches Bay this past winter and testing the waters for results.

Great Gun Shellfish Company owner Paul McCormick is an oyster farmer by trade whose farm filters millions of gallons of water daily. What he and researchers are looking into is if cultivating sugar kelp will help with oyster growing as well as filtering the estuary. This also offers the potential for oyster farmers to diversify their crop as it is a trending food source.

In a recent Newsday story, Dr. Chris Gobler said “cultivating the native seaweed also has environmental benefits. The crop sequesters nitrogen and phosphorous, and also captures carbon dioxide. Higher levels of carbon dioxide can lead to the acidification of waters, which can harm shellfish production. ‘We think the aquaculture of seaweeds represents another important tool for improving water quality on Long Island,’ he said. About 3 percent of the kelp is nitrogen.”

Looking into new aquaculture farming methods is just one of many ways people are working to slow the trend of nitrogen pollution and toxic algae blooms in Long Island’s water. Alternative wastewater treatment systems and Reclaim Our Waters' septic improvement program incentives can help fund these replacements for homeowners. Proposals for groundwater monitoring laws for mines is another way environmentalists, scientists, civic groups, and the public are taking action. You can help, too! Making simple changes at home, contacting elected officials, and joining the Long Island Clean Water Partnership can have a positive impact. Become a member today!

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Long Island Waters Off to Bad Start Ahead of Summer Season

This week, two waterbodies were closed to shellfishing after high levels of saxitoxin were detected in shellfish that had been harvested by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The two closures included: Meetinghouse Creek/Terry Creek in Riverhead and Northport Harbor/Steers Canal in Northport.

Saxitoxin is a neurotoxin that is 1,000-times more potent than cyanide and is made by the algae, Alexandrium. The overgrowth of this algae is fueled by nitrogen pollution. The dominant source of nitrogen pollution is human wastewater from septic systems and cesspools, but also from fertilizer use on lawns and farms. Nitrogen flows from our homes, into our underground drinking water aquifers, and then flows into our surface waters. Excess nitrogen fuels the growth of algae, producing large harmful algae blooms in our waters. Blooms of Alexandrium, also known as “red tides,” grow rapidly when fueled by nitrogen and synthesize high levels of saxitoxin.

Shellfish accumulate the toxin in their tissues and become contaminated – a threat to marine life and humans.  In 2015, hundreds of diamondback terrapin turtles washed up dead along the shores of Flanders Bay, after consuming saxitoxin-contaminated mussels. Humans that consume contaminated shellfish can develop paralytic shellfish-poisoning. Symptoms can range from tingling of the lips and tongue, to numbness of the face, neck and limbs, loss of muscular control, and difficulty breathing.  If you or anyone you know experiences these symptoms after eating shellfish, it should be treated as a medical emergency – call 911 or seek emergency care immediately.

Will these two events be indicative of what Long Island should expect this summer? Last summer, nearly every major waterbody across Long Island was impacted by a harmful algae bloom, oxygen-starved waters, or both.

Action by federal, state, county and local officials is needed now to reverse these trends.  We need stronger policies and standards to reduce the amount of sewage pollution entering our waters. We must improve, upgrade and modernize existing sewer and septic systems.

Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today to stay up-to-date on water quality-related news and to join us in our efforts to restore our water quality!


Source: Dr. Chris Gobler, Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences / Long Island Coastal Conservation Research Alliance

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Express Sessions: Water Quality

Examining water quality and how to protect it

Earlier this month, one of the founding member organizations of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership joined a panel for The Sag Harbor Express newspaper to discuss the state of our water quality. Group for the East End president Bob DeLuca was joined by representatives from Defend H2O, Concerned Citizens of Montauk, the Suffolk County Health Department, the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals, and Suffolk Country Legislator Bridget Fleming for the Express Sessions.

Among the biggest threats to water quality according to experts were failing septic systems, polluted stormwater runoff, fertilizers, pesticides, and more. In last week’s paper, DeLuca is quoted as saying, “You have to protect these resources. They don’t protect themselves. This region suffers from death by a thousand cuts. We have a slow drip, drip, drip of contamination and pollution, whether from septics or development projects.”

One of the timelier topics that came up when talking about the largest threats to one of only nine Special Groundwater Protection Areas on Long Island, which is critically important to the future quality of the region's drinking water, and what lies beneath the Sand Land mine in Bridgehampton. Scientific evidence has found that the controversial and polluting mine has been significantly polluting the groundwater. Recently, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which had previously confirmed the findings and ordered mining activities to stop, entered into an agreement that grants the mine eight more years to operate. Members of the Partnership will continue to fight against this project and have begun taking steps to block the agreement

Other topics included the discussion of Long Island’s first brown tide in 1985, which has made headlines often in recent years, the use of methoprene spraying for mosquitos and its other biological impacts, and runoff associated with lawn care and landscaping activities. Audience members also shared their thoughts on the area’s water quality, including Noyac Civic Council president Elena Loreto, who passed around a petition to end the Sand Land mining permit.

Though informative and often grim, there is something that can be done to protect our water quality. Community action is essential. Making simple changes at home, contacting elected officials, and joining the Long Island Clean Water Partnership can bring about positive change. Become a member today!

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Let's Clean Up Long Island's Waters This Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day! If you live on Long Island, you know our way of life is all about the water! Long Island is unique in that it is a sole source aquifer region, meaning that we rely on our underground groundwater aquifers as the sole source of our drinking water. Beaches, bays and harbors often set the scene for some of our favorite memories. Each Long Islander likely has a special memory tied to the water – a fun day on the beach with family, watching a beautiful sunset, or catching your first fish at a local pier. Long Island’s water also supports a multi-billion dollar regional economy that attracts visitors from around the world. Long Island is pretty amazing!

Unfortunately, our water quality has been declining throughout the years. Pollution from sewage, pesticides and toxic chemicals all threaten our waters. Fortunately, we can fix it. But action by local, county and state officials is needed right now. One thing’s for sure: the cost of fixing the water problem now will be far less than the cost of destroying Long Island’s drinking water and bays and harbors.

Just as there so many reasons to love Long Island’s waters, there are just as many reasons why we should all work to clean up Long Island’s waters.

We need to clean up Long Island’s waters to protect the sole source of our drinking water. 2.8 million Long Islanders rely on clean water to drink, bathe in and cook with.

We need to clean up and protect our water resources to ensure a healthy habitat for the countless plant and animal species that call Long Island home – many of which are endangered or threatened.

We need to work to address our water quality problems in order to restore our fisheries and our once-vibrant shellfishing industry.

We need to clean up Long Island’s waters to ensure a clean, healthy and beautiful environment for future generations.

On this Earth Day, join in on the every day effort to restore Long Island’s water quality – become a member of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today! Tackling the issue of water quality is one of Long Island’s biggest environmental challenges. We need everyone to take notice and call for action.

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