There was a moment at the Hampton Bays Civic Association’s meeting last night when it seemed a collective light bulb went off: We’ve met the polluters, and they are us.
The meeting was the civic’s second annual environmental forum and during a presentation on a DVD everyone learned that each human puts out nine pounds of nitrogen per year and uses 75 gallons of water per day.
The video presentation followed a hearing from Chris Gobler, a researcher with Stony Brook, who said nitrogen killed off the eel grass—as in there’s none left—in the Shinnecock Bay, which left juvenile shellfish vulnerable to predators and thus without its natural filtering system. This environment is where brown tide thrives (the first was in 1985) and now a red tide, which can be toxic to humans because it creates paralytic shellfish poison.
This is a point , president of , an environmental organization, has been making in a series of public information forums. It is also a point reinforced by a enacted on Monday by the state’s department of environmental conservation.
Also on hand was Walter Dawydiak from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, who outlined what the county has been working on to mitigate the rising and sustained levels of nitrogen in our bays.
As confirmed by numerous studies, the leaching of nitrogen from septic systems affects the bays more than anything else.
McAllister quoted the county’s comprehensive plan, which found septic systems account for 70 percent of the nitrogen in public waters, while lawn fertilizer accounted for nine percent.
The problem with Suffolk County, he said is that it houses 1.5 million people and 70 percent of it is unsewered with a sandy, unstable soil mantle. And septic systems need large areas, and time, to dilute nitrogen before it hits the water. Sewers are much more effective.
So what to do about it?
Right now, said Dawydiak, the low hanging fruit are new developments where alternatives to septic systems—essentially mini sewage processing plants—are practically and economically feasible.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming was in the audience and said the health of the bays is on the town’s radar and considered a crisis. She said that East End supervisors are working collaboratively to address the problem, but switching to sewers is enormously expensive.
Mary Jean Green, a director of the civic, replied that the cost statement was a scare tactic.
“It’s been on our radar for 30 years,” she said, “and nothing’s been done. We have to do something to save ourselves.”
As a crowd of near 80 filed out one attendee wondered out loud “What can we do? I guess we have to vote,” she said.
To view the county's wastewater management plan, click here.