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Why We Should Protect Long Island Estuaries

Facts About the Three Largest Long Island Estuaries

September 16th through the 23rd is National Estuaries Week.  Since 1988, National Estuaries Week provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate our Long Island estuaries.  What better a time to learn more about Long Island estuaries than now?

An estuary is a coastal body of water where freshwater from rivers, streams and groundwater mixes with salt water from the ocean.  Estuaries are usually protected by barrier islands or peninsulas, but are influenced by the tides.  Their habitats can encompass shallow open water, saltwater marshes, swamps, sandy beaches, mud and sand flats, rocky shore, tidal pools and seagrass beds.  Estuarine environments are often touted as some of the most ecologically productive on earth.  Estuaries like our Long Island estuaries support unique communities of plants and animals that are adapted for this specific environment.   

Aside from their ecological importance, Long Island estuaries provide us with economic and recreational benefits that shape our way of life.

Here are some unique facts attributed to the three largest Long Island estuary systems.

Long Island Sound

  • Designated an “Estuary of National Significance” in 1987
  • Home to 1,200 species of invertebrates
  • Home to 170 species of finfish
  • Contains 600 miles of coastline
  • Contributes a whopping 9.4 billion dollars annually to the economy
  • Average depth is 63 feet 

South Shore Estuary Reserve

  • Encompasses 173 square miles of south shore bays and wetlands from Reynolds Channel in Nassau County to the eastern shores of Shinnecock Bay in Suffolk County
  • Formed during the past 5,000 years
  • Average depth is 15 feet
  • The South Shore Estuary Reserve Act was passed by the NYS Legislature in 2001 to protect and manage the estuary system
  • Contains more impaired surface waters due to nitrogen loading than any other region in the entire state.
  • There are more designated “Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats” found in this system than any other region of the state. 

Peconic Estuary

  • Situated between the north and south forks of Long Island, includes over 158,000 acres of surface water.
  • Designated an “Estuary of National Significance” in 1993
  • The Peconic Estuary Program was formed to manage a comprehensive management plan to help restore and preserve the estuary’s resources
  • Hosts a mixture of coastal and underwater habitats that support 140 globally and locally rare species
  • The Peconic Estuary and its watershed have bee identified by The Nature Conservancy as on of the “Last Great Places” in the western hemisphere
  • The New York State Department of State has designated over 90 areas as significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats

Do you want to learn more about Long Island estuaries? Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today and find out what you can to do protect these important habitats.

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Chris Gobler Discusses State of Long Island Water Quality

Dr. Chris Gobler on the State of Long Island Water

Dr. Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University at the Partnership's Sixth Annual "Water We Going To Do?" Conference

Following one of the longest and most intense brown tides that Long Island’s South Shore has ever experienced, the need to take purposeful and immediate action in order to eliminate our nitrogen pollution has never been clearer. Take a crash course in the different types of algal blooms that plague Long Island’s waterways and the ways that we can eliminate them by watching this presentation by Stony Brook University Professor Dr. Christopher Gobler.


Know the difference between a brown tide and red tide? Curious about ways in which nitrogen can be removed from water bodies? In this update on the “State of the Bays” presented during our 6th annual “Water We Going to Do” Conference in May, Dr. Gobler helps to define the different kinds of algal blooms that threaten Long Island’s shores and wildlife and outlines a path forward for the region in its battle against nitrogen pollution. Find out first hand why Dr. Gobler is considered Long Island’s leading expert on the region’s water quality.

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Harmful Algal Blooms

What Are Harmful Algal Blooms?

Harmful algal blooms, or HABs, are colonies of algae that grow out of control and pose a threat to humans, the environment, and to the economy. They can sometimes appear as large clumps of foul-smelling gunk, washed up on beaches or at the edges of lakes. Other times, they can cover the entire surface area of pond, depriving anything beneath the water of sunshine and oxygen. Algal blooms can be blue-green, green, red, or colorless. When they’re red, HABs are often referred to as “red tide.” Some species of algae can produce debilitating toxins, kill off fish, oysters and other seafood, and contaminate drinking water supplies. Not all algal blooms are harmful though; In fact, less than one percent of blooms produce dangerous toxins. Under normal circumstances, algae are necessary photosynthetic, aquatic plants that form the base of food chains around the world.

Unfortunately, though, harmful algal blooms have been increasing in occurrence, duration, density, and range around Long Island, the United States, and the globe. A “rainbow” of harmful algal blooms has been reported in nearly every coastal waterway on Long Island in recent years. As a result, fish, turtles, shellfish and other sea creatures have perished.

Moreover, according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), every single American state with a coast line or a Great Lake has reported harmful algal blooms in their waters. Humans and pets can be exposed to HAB toxins by drinking, swimming, or boating in contaminated water. The side effects of the toxins can range from vomiting and flu-like symptoms, to gastrointestinal illnesses, and, in some cases, death. Every year, HABs are estimated to cost the United States approximately $82 million dollars, due to their effects on public health, tourism, and the seafood industry.

Algal blooms are believed to occur when pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorous leak into waterbodies. Leakage can occur during a rain storm when lawn fertilizers are washed away, or more insidiously, from home septic systems. A conventional onsite septic system was never designed to remove nitrogen and the average residential septic system discharges approximately 40 pounds of nitrogen per year (there are about 360,000 homes on convention septic systems in Suffolk County alone). This eventually makes its way to Long Island’s aquifer, which in turn, makes its way to Long Island’s bays and harbors.

But there is hope on the horizon. Suffolk County and a few East End towns have set the stage for improvements and are proposing and implementing septic upgrade programs which will swap out conventional septic systems for newer, alternative models which can remove at least 70% of nitrogen from waste. This past summer, Suffolk County launched a new website that it developed dedicated to helping homeowners and industry professionals learn more about this issue and to take action. Under the Reclaim Our Water Septic Improvement Program, homeowners who decide to replace their cesspool or septic system with the new technologies will be eligible for a grant of up to $11,000. More information can be found at http://reclaimourwater.info/

Suffolk County has devised the Septic Improvement Program consisting of both a grant and low-interest financing program as the next logical piece of the Reclaim Our Water initiative -- an effort to replace some of the many conventional septic systems on Long Island.

By Hannah Stewart.

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Storm Water Pollution Prevention

Homeowners - there are a variety of methods to prevent storm water pollution

Storm water runoff is one major source of Long Island’s surface water pollution.  Unfortunately, it often leads to beach closures after heavy rainstorms due to unsafe bacteria levels. However, there are a variety of practices that homeowners can adopt to prevent storm water pollution.  Check out the list of options below to get started.

Storm water runoff is precipitation or snowmelt that does not seep into the ground but flows over impervious surfaces such as roads, driveways, roofs, sidewalks or over bare, compact soils and sometimes lawns.  Storm water becomes polluted as it flows over these surfaces and picks up all sorts of contaminants such as chemicals, nutrients and bacteria.  The water eventually makes its way into sewer systems or drains directly into surface waters.

Homeowner methods for storm water pollution prevention:

Install a rain barrel.  Rain barrels hook up to your home’s gutter system and collect and store precipitation that runs off of the roof.  The water can be used for gardening. 

Reduce pesticide and fertilizer use.  Fertilizers contain phosphorus and nitrogen, which promotes the overgrowth of algae in the waterway.  If discontinuing fertilizer isn’t an option, switch to an organic brand. 

Create a rain garden with native plants.  Lawns aren’t particularly effective at handling storm water and are often treated with chemicals and fertilizers.  Replacing an area of lawn with native plants, which require less fertilizer and usually less irrigation will help to allow precipitation to soak into the ground while plants help filter out pollutants.  Planted areas generally soak up 14 times more water than lawn areas.

Create a vegetated buffer.  If you live along the water’s edge (even if you have bulk heading), vegetative buffers are excellent in preventing storm water pollution.  Buffer areas, planted with native vegetation, reduce the velocity of runoff and are effective at trapping upland sediments, pesticides and pollutants.

Reduce impervious surfaces.  Any reduction in the amount of impervious surface on your property will help reduce runoff.  Replacing paved driveways, walkways or patios with permeable pavement or materials will allow precipitation to soak into the ground. 

Pick up after your pet.  It sounds trivial, but it’s not.  Pet waste, especially deposited on beaches and around shoreline communities can contaminate surface waters due to excessive nutrient and bacteria content. 

Dispose of hazardous materials properly.  Never dispose of chemicals such as paints, oils, pesticides or cleaners down storm drains, lawn areas or even house drains.  Take advantage of your town’s hazardous waste drop off days or contact your local municipal waste department for information regarding proper disposal.  

To stay informed on how you can help protect surface water quality, sign up to become a member of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership - http://www.longislandcleanwaterpartnership.org/register.aspx

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How to Interpret Dr. Chris Gobler's Water Quality Report

Follow Dr. Gobler's Water Quality Report this Summer 

Over the last several years throughout the summer months, Dr. Chris Gobler of The Gobler Lab at Stony Brook University has collaborated with News 12 Long Island to bring Long Islanders a weekly water quality report through the Long Island Water Quality Index.  Be sure to check out these weekly reports on the News 12 Long Island website under the “Weather” tab.  Click here for the reports: http://longisland.news12.com/story/35643003/news-12-long-island-water-quality-report

This weekly water quality report presents data on roughly thirty sites throughout the waters surrounding Long Island. Each site is tested for six different parameters: fecal coliform bacteria, chlorophyll, harmful algae, brown tide, dissolved oxygen and water clarity. A color-coded interactive map is provided that allows readers to pinpoint each individual site and see how it compares to others throughout the region.  Every week, each water quality parameter is ranked on a scale using state and federal standards.  These rankings determine an overall score for the water quality at each of the thirty sites.  They are represented by a ranking of either Good (green) Fair (yellow) or Poor (red).  Under the map, a summary report is provided that contains the week’s highlights.  Notable conditions such as the occurrence of algal blooms and/or other unique circumstances are detailed.

It’s important to note that the data that is provided in the weekly report is not intended to be used for determining the safety of shellfishing, swimming or boating.  Please check in with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regarding information related to shellfishing beds and the Nassau and Suffolk County Departments of Health for beach closures.    

The Water Quality Index not only provides the public with an overall understanding of how its precious water resources are fairing, but it provides a baseline of data that can be utilized to determine what actions are necessary and where in order to mitigate potential water pollution problems in our future.   

To read each week’s water quality report be sure to check out the Long Island Water Quality Index found on the News 12 Long Island website under the “Weather” tab.  http://longisland.news12.com/story/35643003/news-12-long-island-water-quality-report

By: Jennifer Hartnagel, Group for the East End

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Suffolk County Septic Systems Improvement Program

New Nitrogen-Removing Septic Systems: Does Your Home Qualify?

Grants and low-cost loans available to qualifying homeowners to replace failing septic systems

Nitrogen pollution from cesspools and septic systems is degrading Long Island’s water quality and is leading to the closure of our favorite beaches, restrictions on shellfishing, toxic algae blooms and massive fish kills and turtle die-offs. In Suffolk County, 70% of homes (about 360,000 homes) are hooked-up to aging and poorly-maintained individual septic tanks or cesspools that were never designed to remove nitrogen. Average residential septic systems discharge approximately 40 pounds of nitrogen per year, that enters our groundwater and then flows into our surface waters.

The Long Island Clean Water Partnership is pleased to applaud and announce the launch of Suffolk County’s Reclaim Our Water Septic Improvement Program, which will provide millions of dollars in direct financial support for Suffolk County residents who want to replace their existing septic systems with new technology that will improve Long Island water quality.

Priority will be given to homeowners located in key regions, those located in unsewered coastal areas, where nitrogen from septic systems quickly reaches surface waters and degrades our marshes, bays and beaches.

This is an exciting first step in the effort to restore Long Island water quality – we encourage all of our members to participate in this program!

Find important information on how you can qualify for up to $11,000, along with low interest loans to help cover the cost of installing new pollution-reducing wastewater disposal septic systems for your home, visit http://reclaimourwater.info/.

By: Katie Muether, Long Island Pine Barrens Society

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Long Island Water Cycle

How are Long Island Drinking Water and Surface Water Connected?

Learn What You Can Do to Protect Long Island Drinking Water

Long Island drinking water and Long Island surface water share a vital connection. On Long Island, underground aquifers store our only source of fresh Long Island drinking water for Nassau and Suffolk Counties. An aquifer is an underground geologic formation, composed of permeable rock, that has the capability to store and transmit water. These aquifers are not static; they slowly flow from high ground to low, recharged by rainfall, and they supply the majority of fresh water entering our streams, lakes, and bays.

This means, that every action we take on land not only has the potential to impact Long Island drinking water, but also Long Island surface water. Contaminants we introduce on the land’s surface, like nitrogen from wastewater and fertilizers, pesticides, and toxic chemicals, make their way into our aquifer system and then into our bays, harbors, lakes and streams. These contaminants are causing a lot of problems for our local environment.

We all must make a concerted effort to reduce our impact on land, to protect and restore Long Island water quality. Find out what you can do at home to protect our water here:

Want to learn more about how you can help us protect Long Island’s water? Sign up for the Long Island Clean Water Partnership’s email list today!

By: Katie Muether, Long Island Pine Barrens Society

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Pharmaceuticals in Long Island Water

Safe Disposal of Pharmeceuticals

Learn Safe Disposal Techniques that Protect Long Island Water Supply

Why is the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals important for Long Island water quality? The saying, “old habits die hard” is particularly true when speaking about the age-old practice of flushing pharmaceuticals down the toilet. Unfortunately, we now know that when flushed down the toilet, prescription and over the counter medications can contaminate Long Island water supply in addition to our surface waters. According to the Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan, pharmaceuticals have been found in community public supply wells as well as private well samples throughout various parts of the County. Generally speaking, our septic systems and typical sewage treatment plants do not filter out these contaminants from our water supply. Therefore, it’s imperative to discontinue the practice of flushing and seek safe disposal methods.

Safe disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals is easier than you think. Instead of flushing, bring pharmaceuticals to drop boxes located in virtually every police station throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties in addition to police departments located in Suffolk’s five East End towns. The boxes are located in the lobbies of the police stations. No paperwork is required, it’s an anonymous drop. For a complete list of locations, check out Citizens Campaign for the Environment’s listing of drop off locations. Visit Group for the East End’s, East End Pharmaceutical Disposal page for locations within the five East End towns. Additionally, be on the look out for “take-back” events sponsored by various townships and non-profit organizations.

Stay up to date on this topic and more related to protecting and preserving Long Island water quality. Become a member of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today!

By: Jennifer Hartnagel, Group for the East End

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How to Get Involved

Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership and Protect Our Water

At the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, we know that we all have a good reason to make sure our water supply is clean and healthy. We each have a part to play in protecting our water for the future. The Long Island Clean Water Partnerships is a coalition of Long Island conservation organizations who are dedicated to protecting and resorting Long Island water quality. There are many ways you can join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership and get involved in the effort to restore our water quality.

  1. Become a member

    Register to become a member of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership to hear the latest on water quality improvement efforts, forums, and actions you can take.

    Long Island Clean Water Partnership members have the ability to write their elected officials with the click of a button. We’ll let you know when an important water quality initiative comes up and our website makes it so easy for you to sign-on your support.

  2. Make your voices heard

    Attend local forums, hearings and rallies – tell your elected officials clean water must be a top priority across Long Island. Become a member of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership today and be the first to hear when these events will be.

  3. Attend our annual “Water We Going To Do?” Conference

    Join us at  the Long Island Clean Water Partnership’s “Water We Going To Do?” to hear experts provide updates on the water quality improvement campaign’s progress to date, highlight success stories and discuss clean water projects currently happening on Long Island. You can learn more here.

  4. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to join in on the conversation.

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cleanwaterpartnership/

    Twitter: @LICleanH2O

  5. Encourage your friends and family to get involved

    Educate and encourage others to act and take a stand for Long Island clean water!

    Invite your friends to join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership!

By: Katie Muether, Long Island Pine Barrens Society

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