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Aug 23, 2017 1:34 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Expert Says Wastewater From Septic Tanks Is Biggest Contributor Of Nitrogen To Lake Agawam

Dr. Christopher Gobler told Southampton Village Board trustees on Tuesday that wastewater contributes nearly 70 percent of the nitrogen goint into Lake Agawam. GREG WEHNER
Aug 29, 2017 11:40 AM

Wastewater leaching from septic tanks at both homes and businesses nearby is overwhelmingly the biggest cause of nitrogen loading in Lake Agawam, according to a local scientist hired by Southampton Village to study the health of the lake.

Dr. Christopher Gobler, a marine science professor at Stony Brook University who has been studying the lake for more than a decade, said that 70 percent of the nitrogen going into Lake Agawam comes from septics leaching wastewater, whether from homes or from businesses on Main Street. The homes are the bigger problem, generating nearly half of all the nitrogen that reaches the lake, compared to the 20 percent coming from wastewater generated by businesses.

Dr. Gobler said the resulting high nitrogen levels in Lake Agawam are the main reason the freshwater lake experiences blue-green algal blooms—and does so more frequently than any other lake in the State of New York.

He gave his report to Southampton Village Board members at a meeting on August 22, noting that other less significant sources of nitrogen include 14 percent from sediment at the bottom of the lake, 8 percent from lawns and fertilizers used on nearby properties, and smaller amounts from sources like rain runoff, wildlife and atmospheric dust.

Not all lakes are the same, Dr. Gobler noted at the meeting. For example, lawns and the fertilizers used at homes around Wickapogue Pond, to the east of Lake Agawam in the village, account for 25 percent of nitrogen loading in that pond, whereas only 33 percent comes from wastewater leaching from nearby septic tanks.

“You don’t walk into a situation and think you know the answer,” Dr. Gobler told board members of his study, which was commissioned by former Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley in 2016.

Dr. Gobler and his team concluded that if village officials control nitrogen sources—especially septics, fertilizer and rain runoff—the amount of nitrogen going into Lake Agawam could be reduced by anywhere from 20 to 65 percent, depending on the sources’ distance from the lake.

A proposed sewer system could reduce the nitrogen load on the lake by 20 to 50 percent, depending on whether septic systems in the area are upgraded as well, according to models put together by Dr. Gobler and his team

Dr. Gobler said that reducing the amount of nitrogen going into the lake by 22 percent, with a sewage treatment plant, would reduce the intensity of blue-green algae blooms by 33 to 55 percent, and the toxicity of the blooms would drop by 50 to 75 percent.

His recommendation to the board was to aim at the bigger problem of wastewater leaching into the ground for a bigger impact on the lake.

Southampton Village Mayor Michael Irving made a statement before Dr. Gobler’s presentation, saying that he noticed that Shinnecock Bay became much darker after the previous week’s heavy rainfall—which coincided with an algae bloom—and his concern that people are destroying the waters on Eastern Long Island.

“People really [have] to pay attention to it or we’re going to have a big mess,” Mr. Irving said. “Agawam is a big mess now.”

Seeing Dr. Gobler’s data, the mayor said, was important for the board, especially when it comes to making a decision on whether or not they will move forward with putting in a new sewer system or make use of a number of other technologies. Mr. Irving noted that the village has already taken steps to reduce the amount of nitrogen loading that occurs in Lake Agawam by putting in catch basins in areas like Bowden Square, Windmill Lane and Culver Street.

At the first of the year, Suffolk County will require new construction to include state-of-the-art septic systems that reduce the amount of nitrogen that leaches into the ground. Mr. Irving said the village will fall under that requirement, and noted that major renovations also will be required to include upgraded septic systems.

“The most significant comment [Dr. Gobler] made is that it’s our responsibility—everybody’s responsibility—to try to reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the water systems,” Mr. Irving said on Tuesday. “If we can make steps in reducing nitrogen loading in that lake, I think we can start to make a difference that is almost visual.”

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Drain the swamp! Literally.
By johnj (1004), Westhampton on Aug 23, 17 2:57 PM
Wouldn't the newly approved nitrogen reducing septic systems work effectively to reduced nitrogen in the pond? It would be no expense to the village if the waterfront homes voluntarily upgraded and then sought rebates that are becoming available....A septic treatment facility would be a major infrastructure improvement costing the village millions of dollars...
By pdthree (1), southampton on Aug 23, 17 3:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
Hold on to your wallets! Two sides to every story. This is an ongoing attempt to justify an agenda. All humans should leave Long Island at once!
By The Real World (365), southampton on Aug 24, 17 7:31 AM
1 member liked this comment
if Agwam Lake was surrounded by farms same issue. for the occasionally algae bloom?
By Obserever (40), Southnampton on Aug 24, 17 11:16 AM
My Dad farmed acreage bordering a big body of water---30 acres on the south side and 26 on the north side. DDT was sprayed with abandon. For 30 plus years we swam, skated, boated, and fished there with no pollution whatsoever. Water was pristine all those years, so can we please cease and desist with the farm run-off nonsense? The blooms are a direct result of waste once the perimeter of the lake was festooned with houses.
By June Bug (2453), SOUTHAMPTON on Aug 24, 17 12:06 PM
1 member liked this comment
And the DDT cane in beautiful heavy burlap bags that were soaked to clean in the ponds ...

June Bug you should hear the story my neighbor (multi generational SH resident) treks about the guy who used to fish there ... he died of a horrible growth on his neck. ..chilling creepy sorry
By dave h (193), calverton on Aug 29, 17 8:26 PM
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