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May 26, 2015 12:34 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Homeowners Pitch In $360k For Georgica Pond Study

Left to right: Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Professor Christopher Gobler, PhD and graduate students/Pond Stewards Jennifer Jankowiak and Ryan Wallace have launched a research project on the water quality of Georgica Pond in Wainscott. COURTESY STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY
May 26, 2015 4:00 PM

A group of homeowners along Georgica Pond’s waterfront have raised nearly $360,000 in private donations to fund a two-year study of its waters and the sources of pollution that may be contributing to the choking algae blooms that have plagued the pond for years and spurred health warnings last summer.

The study will attempt to piece together a complex puzzle of factors that are sparking the toxic blooms, which forced the closure of crabbing and fishing in the pond and prompted warnings against human activities in or on its waters for much of last summer.

Salinity levels, lawn fertilizers, leaking septic systems, runoff from roadways and a host of natural environmental conditions could be among the myriad factors that have tipped the usual ecological balance in the pond and allowed toxin-producing blue-green algae to flourish in its waters in the summertime. Untangling the web, scientists and homeowners say, will take a comprehensive cataloging of how much of what is coming from where.

“The problems are very complex,” said Anne Hall, a pondfront resident who rallied her neighbors to put up money for the study of the pond. “We don’t actually know where this is coming from or why it’s really happening.”

The research will be conducted by scientists from the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, who were already conducting water monitoring in the pond for the East Hampton Town Trustees. The scientists, led by Dr. Christopher Gobler’s team of specialists on harmful algal blooms, will be looking at water conditions in the pond and attempting to identify what pollutants are feeding the algae blooms, what their source, or sources, are, and what can be done to tamp down their effects.

“The algal blooms there are different from anything else we’ve seen … on Long Island,” Dr. Gobler said. “There are a number of factors at play there that are unique to that pond. Some [algae] species … we’ve never seen before.”

Among the tools the scientists will be using is a real time water-monitoring buoy anchored in the pond that will send data back to the Stony Brook labs 24 hours a day.

“Typically, we were monitoring once a week, but last year things really turned on a dime,” Dr. Gobler said of the sudden emergence of the toxic algae blooms in mid-summer. “We’ve learned that conditions at night can be very different and that oxygen levels can drop very quickly, and if you measured during the day you could think things were okay, but everything is falling apart at night.”

The ultimate goal of the study will be to suggest, to the Trustees and to homeowners, a variety of “fixes” that could be attempted to stanch the influx of whatever pollutants are causing the blooms.

With algae blooms expanding throughout town waters, the East Hampton Trustees had already dedicated $39,000 for 2015 to hire the Stony Brook scientists to do monitoring in several tidal and freshwater bodies townwide.

The mammoth funding boost from the residents that will allow an in-depth focus on Georgica was spurred by the startling warnings about the pond last summer.

“It became one of those things that got a lot of people’s attention focused,” Ms. Hall, who is among a group of donors that includes Revlon Chairman Ron Perlman, said. “Dr. Gobler suggested this study be done and we agreed to fund it. We raised the money in less than a week.”

It was one of Ms. Hall’s dogs, a Jack Russell named Rosie, that first spotlighted the algae problems in Georgica, when it died after ingesting pond water in September 2012. A short time later, Dr. Gobler’s scientists, alerted by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, sampled the water and made the first identification in the pond of a blue-green algae species that naturally produces neurotoxins. The following year, the Stony Brook scientists began regular monitoring of the pond at the behest of the East Hampton Town Trustees.

In July of last year, the monitors saw a sudden emergence of very dense blooms of the blue-green algae. The DEC ordered all crabbing and fishing in the pond to halt and advised against swimming in the pond or any other activities that could lead to ingesting pond water.

Dr. Gobler said the project’s goal is to have a report on preliminary findings ready to present to the town and homeowners by August.

He said some potential solutions are already being experimented with. The Trustees dug an inlet between the pond and the Atlantic last fall and the influx of saltwater almost immediately snuffed out the blue-green algae bloom, which needs salinity below 10 parts per thousand to survive. The Trustees opened the cut again in January and it ran steadily for most of the next four months, which Dr. Gobler said he hopes could well keep algae blooms in check.

He said he recommended that the Trustees abandon their traditional March and October openings of the cut, in favor of more regular flushing whenever salinity levels get too low.

East Hampton Trustee Dr. Stephanie Forsberg said that the Trustees are looking at a program of regular cutting of the inlet and of excavating sand from the flood plain delta at the southern end of the pond to boost the exchange between pond and ocean.

“We want to be able to get that water flowing so it gets into all the tributaries of the pond,” Dr. Forsberg, who earned her Ph.D. in marine science at Stony Brook, said. “I really don’t want to look at this pond as a lost cause. I look at it as we’re at a point where we can still recover and the Trustees are on board for whatever it takes to get this fixed.”

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Give me the $360k I'll give you the answer right now. Fertilized lawns and septic issues plain and simple. Since the homeowners are funding this study you can almost guarantee the results from this study will likely divert the blame towards some other source. Taking the liability off the homeowners!
By GoldenBoy (346), EastEnd on May 28, 15 8:30 AM
1 member liked this comment
Of course those are going to be the major reasons - but why is toxic blue-green algae occurring here and no where else? Plenty of ponds and water bodies which have a similar setup (mecox, sagg, lake agwam) but do not have the toxic algae.

Your assumptions will be the basis for the hypothesis - look up the scientific theory. Once you really dig in, you may be surprised that your hypothesis is only partly correct. This is why we have scientists, because everyone can say "fertilized lawns ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on May 28, 15 10:24 AM
Not sure what part of the pond these folks live at, but I can tell you the area near Goose Creek smells like and probably is a sewer.
By johnj (1017), Westhampton on May 28, 15 9:29 AM
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