Clean Water For Long Island

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Long island is having water problems just like the rest of the country. Ours, however, are not yet the result of extreme drought or floods. They are founded on inefficient water use and pollution. In Suffolk County, nitrogen pollution has been rampant. This comes from an overload of fertilizer use, watershed problems, septic tank failures, atmospheric nitrogen and animal waste. Nitrogen has caused brown tides and other related water problems, resulting in the closing of many beaches and the dying of of fish and shellfish. Finally, it is being addressed. This past summer, Suffolk’s legislators took an important first step by passing a law to remove excessive nitrogen from their waste water.

With the help and guidance of The Nature Conservancy and other members of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, Suffolk County’s Health Department will start phasing-in new state-of-the-art home septic systems. There are currently over 360,00 residential cesspools and conventional systems located there. These could be upgraded with proper certification, with professionals needed to install and maintain the systems. Since 2015, there have been several brands of nitrogen-reducing septic systems tested. The approval of some models for homeowners is underway. The funding needed for homeowners to do their share will be available through low interest loans, grants or a portion of the cost. But what is really needed are more sewer lines which Sen. Chuck Schumer is asking for.

In Nassau County, the problem of protecting our aquifers is more dependent on what waste and chemicals are entering the sewers. There are thousands of pipelines coming from old water treatment plants. The pipes are more than 100 years old and more than 100,00 gallons of water are lost every day.

The problem of cutting nitrogen pollution depends on how homeowners treat their lawns and gardens. The stormwater runoff problem exists largely on the South Shore of Nassau County. Its runoff also includes pesticides used to make garden areas and grasses insect-free. Unless homeowners turn to more organic or low nitrogen fertilizers, the pollution of potable water sources-aquifers, bays, and estuaries will continue. The use of volatile organic compounds in paint and pharmaceutical castoffs also is a problem. This results in all kinds of restrictions that are finally emerging. One reason is that the fishing industry is suffering and many of Nassau’s beaches are becoming too unhealthy to swim, resulting in with some closings.

Since the water in Nassau comes from aquifers, the withdrawal (use) versus discharge into the groundwater present the question of whether the cycle of use and loss is sustainable.
David Berg of the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) has received $5 million from New York State to study the nitrogen loads in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Experts will then develop strategies to reduce the loads. The question they seek to answer is: What amount of nitrogen can be released into our waterways without impacting them?

Obviously, we must do something in the meantime. Most of the current garden products used in our golf courses, in agriculture, and on our landscapes are laden with nitrogen. This must be changed. Our water use has been profligate up until recent times. Only recently has Scott’s eliminated phosphorus in lawn products. This company is also introducing grass products needing less water. It’s a start.

We have other solutions: Wastewater reuse is one. This water can be used on a golf course, not put into an estuary. Homeowners can collect water in rain barrels for gardening. These and other water saving products are readily available. Finally, a new system called Blossom has arrived. It measures moisture on soil so that homeowners can alter the schedule to halt overwatering of lawns.

The solutions are in front of us. It is up to all of us who live in Suffolk and Nassau Counties to become proactive and convince our legislators and the agricultural industry to do the right thing as well..

—Elaine Peters

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