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What's On Your Lawn?

High-nitrogen fertilizers are poisoning Long Island water

Though temperatures are still chilly, this is the time of year when many homeowners prepare to sign annual lawn maintenance contracts with Long Island landscaping professionals. But many of the very products that keep the grass a green, do more harm than good to Long Island’s water resources. Pesticides along with high-nitrogen, and “quick-release” fertilizers have been proven to contribute to Long Island’s water quality problems, and these water quality problems can pose a threat to humans, pets, and wildlife.

Pesticides and fertilizers can both contaminate our drinking water, as well as our ground and surface waters. Fertilizers have also been a factor in “fueling” harmful algal blooms that result in fish kills, shellfish bed closures, beach closures, and more. Did you know that chemical fertilizers and lawn treatments can even interfere with natural photosynthesis by coating grass and plants with chemicals that are difficult to absorb? These harmful chemicals can also kill off the beneficial microbes found in healthy soil that are needed to grow healthy plants. Many homeowners don’t realize the impacts of these chemicals used to keep properties picture perfect, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and Long Island water, and still have a healthy attractive lawn.

If you feel you must fertilize, and in many cases you don’t really have to, please tell your landscaper you don’t want toxic chemicals used on your property, and ask for low-nitrogen and “slow-release” alternatives to fertilizers designed to “green-up” your lawn in an instant. These fertilizers can quickly bypass your lawn and pass directly into our ground and surface water. By contrast, slow-release fertilizers are broken down over time by microbes in the soil, require less regular use, and provide nutrients more evenly and effectively to plantings over the course of the entire growing season. Opt for biodegradable and organic alternatives. Learn more about non-toxic lawn products at I Love Long Island, and check out this news clip about the dangers of high-nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides.

Long Island water is at risk, and improper lawn care adds to the problem. Be informed on what is being put on your lawn, and consider Long Island landscapers that use that natural products when signing up for lawn care services this year. You can make a difference in Long Island’s water quality and help protect your family, pets, and wildlife.

Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today and take action to protect Long Island water!

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Coastal Flooding and Water Quality

How Nature Can Help Reduce Impacts of Flooding

The severity and impacts of coastal storms and flooding are getting worse. Reducing the risks that storms pose always involves multiple solutions working in tandem. These solutions include: early warning systems; manmade or “built” solutions like reservoirs, dams, levees, seawalls and pumps; working with willing communities and homeowners to move people out of areas that are subject to frequent flooding, and nature itself. 

There is a role that nature itself can play in helping reduce flood risk for communities while providing other benefits, like improved water quality and enhanced recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat, all of which can also enrich local economies. Such “nature-based solutions” or “natural infrastructure” are important as part of a holistic approach to coastal resilience.

But to be effective, our natural systems need good water quality so that they can be healthy and resilient. 

Science Shows that Marshes Reduce Property Losses

A study commissioned by The Nature Conservancy showed that coastal wetlands in the northeastern U.S. prevented $625 million in property damages from flooding during Hurricane Sandy. The study also showed that these same wetlands reduce annual storm damage by at least 15 percent. There are many cost-effective and sensible ways to finance natural infrastructure for coastal flood damage reduction and support the re-building of coastal resilience.

Currently, less than 3 percent of funding currently goes to natural infrastructure as opposed to “grey” or “built” infrastructure. This is a coastal investment portfolio that should be re-balanced, especially when funds are made available for rebuilding after major storms. 

Dunes Provide Protection at South Seaside Park, N.J.

In December 1992, a Nor’easter caused significant flooding and erosion at South Seaside Park, in part because naturally occurring dunes there had been removed years before to improve ocean views and beach access. After the 1992 Nor’easter the community used snow fencing to help rebuild the dunes and then stabilized them by planting dune grasses. When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, the dunes were 25 feet high and 150 feet wide. During the storm, these dunes protected the community from severe damage and flooding along the ocean front. The dunes, rather than homes, businesses and infrastructure, took the brunt of the storm.

South Seaside Park also serves as a case study for the Naturally Resilient Communities program, which is a partnership of county governments, professional engineers, community planners, floodplain managers and conservationists who work with communities to improve their quality of life and economies through the use of nature-based solutions.

Beaches and Wetlands Reduce Flood Damage at South Cape May, N.J.

At the 200-acre South Cape May Meadows Preserve, The Nature Conservancy has worked with partners to restore wetlands and sand dunes that have helped protect the neighborhood located behind them from the impacts of several storms, including Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012. This natural infrastructure protected Cape May Point during Hurricane Sandy against the third highest storm surge experienced since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. The restored wetland absorbed nearly 10 inches of rainfall—also the highest recorded since 1985—resulting in minimal damage to nearby neighborhoods. 

In 2014, Conservancy scientists produced an analysis of the economic and social benefits of the ecological restoration at South Cape May. They found that the restoration helped reduce the average flood damage per storm from $143,713 to $3,713 (for the same level of storm surge). During Sandy, nourished beaches on New Jersey’s Atlantic Coast reduced the likelihood of severe damage or destruction to “first row” homes and businesses by 50 percent.

Nature’s Strength Depends on You

Nature can be a big ally in helping to protect us against coastal storms. But nature also depends on us to keep it healthy. You can help keep our marshes (and other habitats) healthy by limiting your use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that runoff and harm wetlands and marshes.

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Public Hearing Will Be Held on Federal Offshore Drilling Proposal

Oil and Gas Drilling in the Atlantic Would Threaten Long Island’s Communities, Beaches, Fisheries, and Economy

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has proposed to open the Atlantic Region Outer Continental Shelf for the leasing, exploration and development of oil and gas.  The environmental community, public health advocates, business leaders, and the public have come out against offshore drilling in the Atlantic region, which would leave us vulnerable to oil spills and could cause lasting damage to our coastal ecosystem. Hundreds turned out to warn of the dangers of offshore drilling at a public hearing held by the NYS Assembly in Smithtown last month, and there has been a bi-partisan call from elected officials at all levels of government to exempt our region from this plan in order to protect our water resources and our economy.  With the momentum against offshore drilling building, federal decision makers have scheduled a public hearing so Long Islanders can go on the record about their concerns.

The US Department of the Interior will hold a public hearing on offshore drilling on Friday, March 2nd, from 12pm-2pm at Brookhaven Town Hall.

Oil and gas drilling has caused lasting damage to communities around the country and we cannot afford for Long Island to be next.  Catastrophic oil spills like the Exxon Valdez and Deep Water Horizon destroyed local fisheries, threatened human health, and left environmental damage that would take decades to recover from. Even without a large spill like Exxon Valdez or Deep Water Horizon, fossil fuel exploration during normal conditions can have a lasting impact. Seismic blasts used in oil exploration have been shown to disrupt marine life, from whales to zooplankton, and can kill or severely injure fish and shellfish, including those of commercial importance like squid, lobster, and scallops.

Long Island is already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Extreme weather events, sea level rise, salt water intrusion, ocean acidification, and warming temperatures threaten our water resources and our way of life. In addition to the potential direct impacts from seismic blasts, leaks, and spills, offshore oil and gas drilling would thwart the significant investments made to mitigate climate change locally and improve water quality in our bays, lakes, estuaries, and ocean. After decades of work to restore our waterways and fisheries, there is no reason to undo critical ocean protections.

If you cannot make it to public hearing but would like to weigh in, you can still submit comments to BOEM until March 9th.


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Water Use on Long Island

How much water do you use daily?

There’s more to daily water use than you think!

Most people go throughout their day without thinking about where exactly their water is coming from and how much of it they are using. We turn on our sink tap and always expect water to come flowing out. When we do take a moment to think about our water use, common activities come to mind: showering, brushing our teeth, flushing our toilets, etc. However, many of us forget to take into account the water that we use indirectly, like the water that is used to make our food, water contained in the products we buy, or the water used produce our energy.

Did you know that for each mile we drive, about 7 gallons of water is used? Do you have a cat or dog at home? There’s a lot of water that goes into their food too! Water is used to make the new clothes and products we buy.  It takes about 100 gallons to grow and process 1 pound of cotton and on average, we go through about 35 pounds per person of new cotton each year. Reading this blog on your smart phone? Well, it took about 3,190 gallons to make your device.

On top of this, many Long Islanders love their lawns – or should we say Lawn Islanders! In the summer, about 90% of water use on Long Island goes towards watering lawns.

Although supply is cheap and plentiful, excess water use does threaten the quality and quantity of our water supply. In some areas of Nassau County’s north and south shores and around Montauk in Suffolk County, overuse is leading to saltwater intrusion –salt water seeps into Long Island’s sole source aquifer when the amount of fresh water being removed exceeds the amount being replenished by precipitation. Excess irrigation on lawns, golf courses and other green spaces also affects water quality. Runoff from watering lawns or irrigating farms causes excess nitrogen and pesticides to enter our water bodies.

Want to find out how much water you use? – Visit https://www.watercalculator.org/

After you discover how much you use, the site provides great tips on how you can reduce your water consumption!


Never miss a post from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, sign up for blog update emails here.

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Bad Valentine: Red Algae Turns LI Waters Pink

It's not Mother Nature sending an early Valentine but if you love Long Island's waters, you should know about the red algae that's been swirling around in and coating our icy shores pink. Dasysiphonia japonica is a seaweed native to Asia and is known for its bushy scarlet fronds that can cover the sea floor. As it breaks apart and begins to decay, the color can range from a striking bright pink to purple to brownish red. It's recently been found in both Southold and the Great South Bay.

Something to take to heart: this invasive macro-algae (or seaweed) isn't toxic to humans; however it could alter the seascape and the marine food web if it disrupts or displaces native- species.

Here’s What You Should Know

According to researchers studying it, this algae species was first reported in Rhode Island in 2007 and was then subsequently found in 19 sites from Maine to Long Island Sound in 2012. A recent photo taken in Great South Bay caught the attention of two Long Island marine researchers who confirmed the species identification and are now enlisting citizens to help. If you want to know what it looks like and to help map it, check out this page.

For the moment, scientists aren't sure what impact this species will have in our local waters, like Great South Bay. But every few years, we get a new species that takes up residency in our waters. Only time will tell how well it acclimates and how other species adapt to it. But since the arrival of D. Japonica our waters have certainly become much more colorful.

What’s the Difference Between this Red Algae and “Red Tide?”

D. Japonica is a type of red macro-algae, commonly called seaweeds.   It’s not harmful to humans and it can be seen with the naked eye. But we don’t fully understand its impact to wildlife and the marine environment. There are other macro-algae found around Long Island, and of many different colors (some are native and some are even red).

By contrast, a “red tide” is a harmful micro-algal bloom of phytoplankton (microscopic creatures that cannot be seen with the naked eye, however in large concentrations they can change the color of the water). Red algae creates a toxin that can trigger deadly paralytic shellfish poisoning in animals and humans that eat polluted shellfish.

Algae thrives on nitrogen and sometimes “blooms” therefore causing them to be visible to humans.  Nitrogen pollution from sewage and fertilizers, like we have in most Long Island waterways, often results in excessive growth of algae that can have cascading impacts on our waterways.    

You can check out our previous blog post on red tides for more information on this toxic phenomenon.

What Can We Do About Algae?

We may not have control of the distribution of algae in our waters, but we can help keep our waters healthy and resilient by reducing our fertilizer usage, pumping our cesspools and thinking about upgrading to advanced wastewater treatment. For more information on how you can help, visit LICWP’s website.

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Salt and Snow

Winter Water Quality: What's Salt Got to Do With It?

Thaw--freeze--thaw--freeze--thaw. With all the wacky weather fluctuations recently, our roads (and ourselves!) are taking a beating. And as the rain comes in later this week, and all of those heaped up piles of parking lot snows melt, where will it all go? Into our bays and harbors, and eventually into our groundwater. While it’s important that our groundwater will get a re-charge, it’s not good that the run-off is loaded with chemicals and other contaminants, like salt. As doctors advise, too much salt in your diet is a bad thing. And it’s the same for our waters. You can help by using a “low salt diet” on your property or business while also staying slip-free.

Here are some winter water quality tips to consider when the next freeze comes or flakes fall.

First try shoveling or sweeping. To reduce spreading de-icer, clear the snow first by shoveling or sweeping. Perhaps you won’t need a de-icer after you clear off the snow. This is a great way to get a little outdoor exercise. Consider helping your neighbor, too!

Know what’s in your de-icer and use non-toxic de-icers whenever possible. Chemical de-icers are carried away into local waterways where they change the composition of the water and can harm resident insects, fish, and birds. Consider natural solutions such as biodegradable cat litter, sand, or fireplace ash. 

Consider your pets, too. De-icers often contain chemicals that burn and crack pets’ paws creating a really uncomfortable outdoor experience. Then, pets lick their paws and all of those chemicals go straight into their bodies. If you must use de-icers, please use a pet-friendly one.

Water quality isn't something just to think about in summer. It's a year-round concern.

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Long Island's wetlands are at risk

World Wetlands Day

Long Island's wetlands are at risk

Today, February 2, is the 47th anniversary of the first international Convention of Wetlands, which was held to focus government attention on the critical environmental and human value of wetlands. These diverse natural communities include marshes, swamps, bogs, mudflats, and other saturated lands, that are both ecologically valuable and critically important to all of us as nursery grounds for shell and finfish. Many wetlands also provide natural buffers for stormwater, floodwater control, and significant protection against coastal storms and erosion. 

On Long Island, tidal wetlands are found in varying degrees all across our 1600 miles of linear shoreline and they are an essential component of our Long Island way of life. Recognizing the importance of these unique habitats, New York State passed the Tidal Wetland Act in 1973. Despite numerous conservation efforts, many of Long Island's wetlands were lost to development and today, many are still at risk from nitrogen pollution.

Increased nitrogen pollution from untreated sewage has been directly related to a dramatic increase in harmful algal blooms - resulting in fish kills, turtle kills, and a loss of commercially valuable finfish and shellfish - that degrade the value of our local wetlands. Scientific research has also shown that excess nitrogen weakens and kills eelgrass, which provides vital underwater habitats for scallops and finfish. Nitrogen has also been shown to weaken the root structure of tidal marshes, leaving them vulnerable to collapse and destruction in the face of coastal storms and wave energy.

There is no question that Long Island's wetlands need our help. So, as the rest of the world celebrates World Wetlands Day, let's think globally and act locally. Take steps at home to limit your impact on water quality, contact your elected officials and tell them to help residents reduce nitrogen in our bays and harbors, and upgrade your septic system with a new advanced treatment system that will substantially reduce to nitrogen pollution coming from your home wastewater. Suffolk County and some East End towns, including East Hampton, Southampton, and Shelter Island have generous rebate programs to help qualified homeowners pay for the cost of a new advanced treatment septic system.

Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today and take action to protect Long Island's wetlands! 

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Brown tides vs. Red tides. What’s the difference?

Familiarizing Yourself with Long Island’s Harmful Algal Blooms 

Another year has come and passed and another record breaking harmful algal bloom plagued the shores of Long Island. In fact, it is estimated that every major waterbody on Long Island - 15 lakes and 20 beaches – was affected by these blooms. While these products of nitrogen pollution and comprised water quality are unfortunately becoming all too common across the island, confusion still exists over the exact definitions for terms like “brown tides” and “red tides”. Since the consequences of both tides differ, knowledge of the distinct characteristics behind each is an essential step in joining the fight to save Long Island’s water quality.

Perhaps the most well-known of the two, “brown tide” algal blooms have most affected the area of the Great South Bay, where the hard clam population has particularly been decimated. Caused by the alga known as Aureococcus, brown tides have the ability to kill off entire shellfish populations and degrade eelgrass ecosystems, which in turn translates into a loss of millions of dollars annually. For instance, in the 1990s, brown tides completely eradicated the $2 million dollar per year Peconic Bay scallop industry, which is only now returning through restoration and seeding efforts. In 2017 alone, one of the worst brown tides on record developed a month earlier than predicted and killed off numerous shellfish and eelgrass populations. While extremely harmful to marine life and local economies, brown tides caused by auerococcus have no known impacts on human health. 

“Red Tides”, frequently caused by the organism known as Alexandrium, on the other hand, often times pose a threat to the health of the public. Most prominent among these threats is the dangers of “Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning”. When ingesting shellfish that has been contaminated with Alexandrium-produced Saxitoxins, humans can begin to feel numbness in their face and extremities, which can lead to a loss of coordination. In severe cases, paralytic shellfish poisoning can lead to respiratory failure and can even be fatal. On Long Island, the existence of saxitoxin-induced paralytic shellfish poisoning in the region’s waterbodies unfortunately led to a mass die-off of dozens of turtles in Peconic Bay back in 2015.

While posing different types of threats to Long Island, the consequences of both Brown Tides and Red Tides cannot be underestimated. Through ongoing and planned nitrogen reducing efforts, it is the Long Island Clean Water Partnership’s hope that the frequency of harmful algal blooms in Long Island’s waters will begin to decline. The goal of ending the dual threats of Brown and Red Tides must play a major role in all future water quality efforts for the island in order to preserve the region’s water, wildlife and industry

Never miss an update from the Long Island Clean Water Partnership - sign up for blog email updates here.

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Governor Cuomo Allocates $300 Million for Environmental Protection Fund

This year’s Executive Budget continues historic investments in Long Island’s parks, beaches, and waterways.

Since 1993, the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) has been New York’s dedicated funding source for environmental programs from Montauk to Buffalo. The EPF funds projects that are critically important for protecting our natural resources and connecting New Yorkers with their local environment. Some of the programs funded throughout the EPF include; drinking water protection, open space and parks preservation, waterfront revitalization, pollution prevention, hazardous waste disposal, recycling programs,  pesticide reduction, and invasive species removal. The EPF also supports our botanical gardens, aquariums, and zoos.

The funding in the EPF comes from NY’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), which means that although the EPF was always intended to grow to a robust source of funding for NY’s environmental programs, the funding levels have fluctuated with the real estate market and hit historic lows in the years following the 2008 financial crisis.  As the economy has recovered and our state leaders have made increased commitments to environmental protection, the EPF has risen to a record $300 million. Now, for the third year in a row, Governor Cuomo has committed to continue this record-level investment for the EPF in his Executive Budget.

Long Island is one the largest beneficiaries of EPF funding in the state, with Nassau and Suffolk having received over $200 million combined over the last 20+ years. On Long Island, over $80 million has been invested in open spaces, parks, and farms, which in turn generates $2.74 billion in economic benefits annually.  Funding from the EPF prevents polluted runoff from agriculture from entering nearby waterways, improves public access to Long Island’s beaches, and supports water quality improvement programs in over 30 Long Island municipalities.  While these programs are necessary for protecting our land, drinking and surface water resources for generations to come, they also have immediate economic benefits. In addition to creating good, local jobs, every $1 invested in the EPF generates $7 in economic benefits.  The success of the EPF shows time and again that, for Long Island, what’s good for the environment is good for the economy.

The LI Clean Water Partnership applauds Governor Cuomo for his continued commitment to the EPF. Now, we need our Senate and Assembly leaders to allocate $300 million in their respective budgets and ensure that we continue to grow the successful programs funded through the EPF. To learn more about the LICWP’s push for funding for the EPF, sign up for updates today!

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Long Island water pollution solutions

Continuing to work towards Long Island water pollution solutions

Long Island water pollution is a well-documented problem. Research has shown that both old cesspools and even more current septic tank and leaching pool systems, provide little treatment of nitrogen generated from human waste. This untreated nitrogen finds its way into our ground and surface waters where it can contaminate drinking water and seriously impact coastal ecosystems.  In addition to nitrogen from sewage, Long Island's waters are also contaminated with pesticides and their residues, toxic chemicals, and even prescription medications. Scientists have helped us define the problem, but now it's time to talk about solutions.

On the local level, energizing and mobilizing communities to embrace innovative solutions for improving water quality, and encouraging them to support water quality improvement plans is essential. Currently, homeowners can take advantage of grant rebate programs in Suffolk County, Southampton, and East Hampton. Community members can also join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership to support Long Island water pollution solutions!

On the County level, there have been great strides towards Long Island water pollution solutions. Most recently, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed a cesspool ban legislation into law. Cesspools have been found to have an immense negative impact on our water quality. Continuing to address and take action against similar culprits to worsening water quality will prove to be helpful in finding Long Island water pollution solutions.

One the state level, Governor Cuomo recently announced New York State will allocate $150 million to fully contain and treat the toxic plume in Bethpage from the Navy/Grumman facility. This remediation plan is a victory to furthering Long Island water pollution solutions. $2.04 million in grants will also support the health of Long Island Sound, including key local projects supporting the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan.

While these victories have been essential in improving Long Island water quality, there is still much to be done. Find legislators in your area and tell them the time to act is now. Together, we can improve Long Island water quality for generations to come. Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today and take action to find Long Island water pollution solutions!

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