With a topic as wide-ranging as “water,” the focus of a Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor meeting turned to water quality for many in the crowd of over 30 who gathered at the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church on Sunday afternoon.
Panelists invited to the event were as varied as the topics discussed. Paddy South, the director of public relations for the Suffolk County Water Authority, Southampton Town Trustee Fred Havemeyer, East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny and Peconic BayKeeper Kevin MacAllister all attended, for the most part discussing what they were each working on in terms of what is arguably the East End’s most valuable resource — its water.
CONPOSH member Valerie Justin opened the forum by talking about the “critical need” to face the issue of stormwater runoff on the East End, as well as water quality in general, and oversight of valuable bodies of water, like those found on the Long Pond Greenbelt.
And with the exception of South, who focused on basic facts about the water authority, it was stormwater runoff and protecting natural resources that dominated the panelists’ presentations.
Larry Penny focused less on what the town was accomplishing, than what he felt residents should be wary of when it comes to water.
As natural resources director since 1984, Penny oversees some 410 nature preserves and helped author both the town’s comprehensive plan as well as a water resources plan.
“They don’t test enough and they don’t have enough study,” said Penny of the water quality on the East End, noting contaminants in water can cause disease. Penny did add the SCWA has been “leading the charge” in terms of conserving water and keeping it clean. However, he added, medical contaminants are a new challenge environmentalists must face. The drugs that people ingest can still be active, and may not be filtered out through sewage systems, said Penny. They can have wide ranging effects over time on the ecology and health in a community, he said.
Pesticides and nitrates, due to farming on the North Fork, he said, are also prevalent in the Peconic Estuary, and vector control and pesticide use also need to be monitored.
“We are still fighting things that have been put into the ground 30 years ago,” noted Penny, adding that the absence of bay scallops and the increase in the disappearance of eelgrass beds is directly connected to water quality.
“Why is the winter flounder population flat, zero,” asked Penny. “Because they like to breed in eel grass.”
Havemeyer, as a member of one of the oldest boards in the United States — the Southampton Town Trustees, which was founded in 1686 — is charged with protecting much of the water in Southampton.
One of the biggest issues the trustees contend with, he said, are dealing with development and protecting the wetlands in partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The same principles used to protect saltwater can be applied to freshwater, said Havemeyer, including combating stormwater runoff, which Havemeyer and MacAllister agreed was one of the biggest threats to water quality on the East End.
Havemeyer advocated creating wetland buffers in any stormwater runoff area of concern as a natural filter.
MacAllister, as the Peconic Baykeeper, has been advocating for such a natural wetlands filter at Havens Beach for over a year now. On Sunday, he noted, as a Baykeeper initiated a testing cycle on the popular bathing beach was near completion, he expects the village will begin to address Havens Beach and other stormwater runoff sites as it moves forward with a comprehensive village stormwater runoff management plan.
Â “Ninety percent of Long Island’s water bodies are considered impaired, meaning they do not support these kinds of uses,” said MacAllister of bathing, shellfishing and propagation of marine life as benchmarks for water quality. Road runoff, collecting a myriad of bacteria from pesticides, fertilizers, bacteria from pet and wild animal waste is primarily to blame, said MacAllister.
However, said MacAllister, it is not just the municipalities that are responsible for taking this task on. He noted the Baykeeper has a “bayscaping” program, focused on teaching East End residents how to care for their properties in an environmentally sensitive manner.
“We have to start employing this on an individual level, but also as a community,” said MacAllister.