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Hampton Bays Civic Association Laments Pollution In Bays

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Laura Cooper   Aug 17, 2011 10:06 AM
Aug 17, 2011 12:39 PM

Swimming in Shinnecock Bay could be dangerous, following a weekend of heavy rain, a Suffolk County Department of Health official warned on Monday night.

After a weekend marked by torrential rain that soaked much of the East End, Environmental Quality Director Walter Dawydiak warned Hampton Bays residents not to swim in Shinnecock Bay for the next few days until the bay completes two tide cycles.

The water, he said, could be full of pathogens that run from stormwater drains on roadways, directly into the bay. These pathogens have the potential to make those who bathe in the water sick.

As one of the 60 people who packed the Southampton Town Senior Center in Hampton Bays for a Hampton Bays Civic Association environmental forum—dubbed “Can Shinnecock Bay Be Saved?”—later pointed out, the fact that bathers cannot enjoy the bay following a rainstorm just illustrates the point that the waterways surrounding the hamlet are sick and at risk at becoming terminally ill.

If the pollution in the waterways is not remedied, the hamlet’s maritime tourism industry and baymen heritage could both become casualties, officials said at the forum.

At the event, a large crowd of concerned residents and local officials—including Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming—listened as three local experts described a gloomy prognosis for Shinnecock Bay, part of the South Shore Estuary that was declared an impaired waterway by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation last year. The impaired status stretches from the East End west to bays along the south shore in Hempstead.

This new designation, according to Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister, is one that should galvanize residents to consider the amount of harmful nitrogen being released from septic tanks and cesspools near the bay and into the water. The harmful nitrogens, or nitrates, occur naturally when human waste breaks down and is eventually processed into ammonia. The nitrates that have entered the bays, creeks and tributaries have killed eelgrass in western Shinnecock Bay and, as a result, many shellfish and scallops can no longer live and reproduce there.

“I saw eels and crabs coming out of the water trying to breathe,” Mr. McAllister said of a recent trip in Peconic Bay, another bay suffering from red and brown tides—harmful algal blooms that can kill maritime organisms.

Stony Brook University researcher Dr. Chris Gobler told those in attendance that regions of Shinnecock Bay west of Ponquogue Bridge are being most severely affected by algal blooms that are caused by nitrates seeping into the water from pesticides, stormwater runoff and, most of all, cesspool and septic systems that slowly leak into the ground and surface water.

“Shinnecock Bay has the worst algal bloom in the world,” Dr. Gobler said, pointing out that overdevelopment is to blame for the impaired waterways. “It’s killing juvenile clams and scallops,” he added.

Septic systems can impact the waterways, even those installed as far as a mile away from the bays. “Homes closest to the water have the biggest impact,” Dr. Gobler said. “Lawn fertilizer does affect the waterway, but it’s a small impact compared to septic tanks.”

Pointing out that Shinnecock Bay was closed to shellfishing on Monday following heavy rains, Dr. Gobler said that stormwater runoff is harmful because it increases the amount of nitrogen in the water, along with pathogens from roadways.

Mr. Dawydiak told the crowd that there are a number of different residential waste systems that could be used that would produce less nitrogen, but he noted some could cost as much as $30,000 to install per household and cost about $1,000 to service each year.

The Suffolk County Department of Health recently completed a Water Resources plan, according to Mr. Dawydiak, which focuses on reducing nitrate pollution in certain target areas. The areas of major concern, according to the report, are the North Fork and western Suffolk County—which are more overdeveloped.

If East End officials aren’t careful, the South Fork could be heading in the same direction. Density has long been an issue in Hampton Bays, where many lots have been subdivided and accessory apartments are regularly added onto homes.

“One of the recommendations is that land be zoned to make sure the densities aren’t too tight,” Mr. Dawydiak said of the report. “We have to make sure we meet the drinking water standard.”

While Mr. Dawydiak stressed that the drinking water in Hampton Bays is not in danger, he said that density and the amount of nitrates seeping into local waterways—due to an excess of waterfront properties—is hurting surface waters. In addition to pushing for changes in zoning, the report suggests more open space purchases so that the surface waters won’t be further stressed by new development.

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Its funny how all of a sudden Septic tanks are the problem just when the Town is trying to impose some sort of punitive policy that make homeowners spend more money to monitor and upgrade their systems. In the article it was noted that fertilizers do not afferct the waterway but because it was a hot topic a few years back, landscapers had to spend alot of money for certifications and stiff fines for improper use. This is all agenda driven. The bay will flush itself out as indicated. If a monsoon ...more
By The Real World (163), southampton on Aug 18, 11 3:22 PM
What , exactly, is the agenda here? Awareness? Public education? I find nothing funny about dying bays and ecosystems. Save our coastal waters= preserve quality of life for residents- maintain tourism-sustain an economy based on intact natural resources (unless it is too late) ,protect the Baymen (if any are left) and allow marine inhabitants live in their only home. There's your agenda.
By dklughers (43), east Hampton on Aug 18, 11 10:29 PM
Ignorance is bliss, ehy real world? Look at all of Gobler's research over the last 10 years - he has been saying the same thing the whole time (as has Kevin McAllister). Fertilizers are still dangerous to our bays - but they also have a negative impact on our drinking water. There's no agenda here, it's just facts.
By Nature (2589), Hampton Bays on Aug 18, 11 9:03 PM
2 members liked this comment
Tragic news, but just confirming what has been apparent for several years now: It is the end of an era for the Peconic and south shore bays.
By danrudan (37), Southampton on Aug 19, 11 9:53 AM
“Lawn fertilizer does affect the waterway, but it’s a small impact compared to septic tanks.”
All humans should leave the east end. we can have the squirrels, gophers,birds, and all wild life trained, at the taxpayers expense of course, to use septic treatment.


By The Real World (163), southampton on Aug 19, 11 11:17 AM
spend 15 minutes with someone who understands what is destroying the most precious natural resource we have and you wouldn't be arguing about whether its septic or runoff is worse. Both are bad and these ecosystems are connected and related. kevin mcallister is exactly correct this should galvanize us to improve the systems in place to protect flora, fauna and the bays.
By kaluss (113), Southampton on Aug 19, 11 12:16 PM
Reading this, I feel as if I must have been at another meeting entirely. So many things are the opposite of what I heard. The Health Department pointed out twice, according to my notes, that in their experience, contrary to the Baykeeper's opinion, the Nitrex system did NOT work reliably. They also said that home fertilizer runoff WAS indeed a significant factor. About 9% of what reached the bays came from runoff from the entire watershed area which can be long distances from the bays, half mile ...more
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Aug 19, 11 12:52 PM
Thanks for the added info and viewpoint on information that was not reported.

While you are correct with regards to Phosphorous (and its source), it is not a limiting nutrient in marine systems (only in freshwater systems - more limiting in fact than nitrogen). As such, Gobler and the Bay Keeper don't give it much play because their focus is on our marine systems which help drive our economy and are big for the fishing industry (much more so than freshwater systems on the east end). Until ...more
By Nature (2589), Hampton Bays on Aug 19, 11 2:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
“Shinnecock Bay has the worst algal bloom in the world,” I really find this statement hard to believe. Who did the study to find it "worst in the world"
By EastEnd68 (832), Westhampton on Aug 19, 11 3:22 PM
Ah, the hypocrites are rampant. I guess all posting here are vegitarian (we all know that shellfishing and fishing affect the ecosystem). Then when you get off the computers you run to your hybrid or high mileage automobiles. I am sure the geothermal systems are going in as we speak along with the solar PV panels and spray foam insulation. No plastics in the housholds. There is too much "do as I say, not as I do". Things can always be improved through technology. Government mandates on the production ...more
By The Real World (163), southampton on Aug 22, 11 12:45 PM
So what do you suggest? We should keep the same heading? We should continue to build and develop? It's easy to be a dissenter, but it's much more difficult to offer solutions - care to try?
By Nature (2589), Hampton Bays on Aug 22, 11 11:52 PM
Sure. All waterfront development today has to go through a rigorous/expensive process that require a multitude of approvals(DEC,Board of Health, Town, etc...) before a shovel can go into the ground. It is there that the newer systems could be mandated. The Town is now on a mission to have all residential septic systems go through inspections and upgrades. This will be too costly for existing homeowners. Look at the energy requirements that the town is forcing on new home builders. They do not ...more
By The Real World (163), southampton on Aug 23, 11 7:50 AM
Your logic is severely flawed. First off, all (residential) waterfront development does not go through a rigorous/expensice process. Every residential structure is deemed a Type II action under NY SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) which means it will have "no significant environmental impact". Further, any new house constructed greater than 50 feet from a valid bulkhead does not require a wetlands permit from Southampton Town, and any house constructed higher than 10' above sea level ...more
By Nature (2589), Hampton Bays on Aug 23, 11 9:13 AM
Have you ever done it? Gone through planning? conservation board? SC dept. of health? Built something from scratch? please be honest...
By The Real World (163), southampton on Aug 23, 11 3:11 PM
Yes I have from A-Z. Is it fun? No. Is it quick? No. But from an environmental standpoint, it's not rigorous.
By Nature (2589), Hampton Bays on Aug 24, 11 9:04 AM
Well I guess we have a difference of opinion on the meaning of "rigorous". We are being micro managed by those whose incomes are dependent on the laws they create. You cannot keep on mandating costs to homeowners in the name of the environment. Eventually the well runs dry.
By The Real World (163), southampton on Aug 25, 11 8:19 AM
The well will be polluted long before it runs dry if we keep our current course
By Nature (2589), Hampton Bays on Aug 25, 11 9:11 AM
So just to confirm. I know you would never mandate something to other people without doing it yourself. You have an updated septic system. Geothermal Heating and AC, PV panels and no fertilizer on your lawn. You have no carbon footprint and use no fossil fuels whatsoever. You are a vegitarian and eat nothing that has been harvested from the sea. Thank you for leading by example.
By The Real World (163), southampton on Aug 25, 11 9:31 AM
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