New York is currently engaged in a heated debate over whether or not to allow upstate fracking. The procedure for removing natural gas from shale deposits has been cited as a major source of drinking water contamination in communities across the country where it is currently being used.
There are major concerns that with New York City getting all its water from reservoirs upstate, fracking could potentially poison the drinking water of millions of New Yorkers.
While on sandy Long Island, fracking is not an issue, there is still great reason to be concerned. Close to three million people live in Nassau and Sufoflk counties and lying beneath the narrow strip of land below our feet is our aquifer — the sole source of drinking water for all those people.
And it’s in trouble. Unfortunately, all that human impact over the years is having a detrimental effect on our water quality— not only the water we drink, but the bays we swim, clam and fish in as well.
In Sag Harbor, you need only look back over the last few years and tally up the numerous times local beaches and waterways were closed to swimming and fishing due to the presence of pollutants to realize there’s an issue.
Nitrogen is the problem, specifically the lawn fertilizers, leaking septic systems and road runoff that are part of every day life. All that stuff makes its way toward the bays where it interrupts the natural cycle of the waterways, causing things like brown tide, killing off eel grass populations vital for the health of shellfish and altering the health of an ecosystem that has historically been one of the East End’s most important resources.
Last week, Kevin McAllister, the Peocnic Baykeeper, filed a notice of intent to sue the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for failing to regulate wastewater, which is now reaching surface water with what he terms “calamitous effects.”
It’s not just leaky septic systems that are a concern, but Long Island sewage treatment plants that aren’t functioning as effectively as they should be. McAllister even notes the state’s own parks have septic systems that are discharging far too many pollutants back into the environment.
Locally, this is an issue we’ve been tuned into for quite a while. Finally after years of debate, the remediation of the polluting dream at Haven’s Beach has been completed and the Harbor Committee is actively discussing ways to ensure the health of the coves through clearing regulations and limitations on use of fertilizer.
But we’ve also seen some pretty disturbing examples of stonewalling related to the environment. Specifically in the form of East Hampton’s Town’s most recent board meeting in which board members squabbled for 20 minutes over the procedural details of an item that ended up on the agenda. That item was an inter-municipal agreement to fund the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee. And though we have no doubt the resolution will be adopted in the end, certainly such insipid infighting would be better spent if directed toward more controversial legislation.
Meanwhile, Sag Harbor is also considering signing onto the agreement, which is designed to improve water quality of the Peconic Estuary by reducing and coordinating local coastal regulations to maximize the protection and improvement of the estuary.
We hope they do. Because the bay is such a vital asset in Sag Harbor’s economy, of all the municipalities in our area, this village perhaps has the most to lose.
We encourage the village to continue pursuing (and strictly enforcing) policies and practices that further protect this waterfront resource. We also invite the village to follow the leads of other municipalities that are doing smart things — such as the Town of Southampton which offered septic rebates for residents willing to replace aging systems, a program so popular it quickly ran out of funding.
This is just one prime example of the many small and positive ways places like Sag Harbor can take a role in cleaning up the waterways while getting residents to feel good about taking personal responsiblity for their actions. Hopefully with the support of state and county government as well, a real difference might soon be realized.