Southampton Town Supervisor allotted $100,000 in her tentative budget for 2015 to found a partnership with Stony Brook University. They intend to do nitrogen mapping in an attempt to prevent future toxic algal blooms, like the one that took place in Sag Harbor Cove, above, this summer. Photo by Mara Certic.
By Mara Certic
Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and her East Hampton counterpart, Larry Cantwell, have both advocated for improving water quality on Long Island, and in their proposed budgets for 2015, each has allotted $100,000 to wastewater management plans.
Eastern Long Island lies over a sole source aquifer, meaning all of the drinking water in East Hampton and Southampton comes from one groundwater supply. There is no external source of water to import, and both private wells and “public water,” installed by the Suffolk County Water Authority, get their supply from the groundwater.
In his budget message, Mr. Cantwell said, “Management of wastewater is a challenge staring us straight in the eye. The town needs to continue developing a town-wide wastewater management plan to address this key issue.”
“To date, the town through its staff and outside consultants has begun to gather, sort and analyze data that will eventually result in a comprehensive wastewater management plan for the town,” he continued.
According to East Hampton Budget Officer Len Bernard, the next phase is a continuation of the work Pio Lombardo of Lombardo Associates has been doing. Mr. Lombardo has written a draft wastewater management plan for the town, which includes neighborhood wastewater treatment centers and enforcing septic system inspections.
The management plan is concise and provides information for the many different areas of East Hampton Town and tentative solutions for each issue. “All the background numbers are done. Now they’re going toward specific actions with specific places,” said Mr. Bernard.
“I have included $100,000 in the tentative budget to begin the development of specific actions of the plan, recognizing that once the basic plan is completed and presented to the public, capital-funded construction and improvements will be required to carry out its recommendations,” Mr. Cantwell said.
“In order to reach that point, however, we need to fund the groundwork that must be performed now,” he said. That groundwork, Mr. Bernard said, will include the formation of “working groups” for different areas and neighborhoods. Those groups will have meetings Mr. Lombardo will attend in order to come up with appropriate wastewater management systems for each part of the town.
Mr. Cantwell also included an extra $10,000, for a total of $20,000, to go toward water quality testing in East Hampton.
This money, the supervisor said, is “for the specific purpose of performing more water quality testing to ensure water bodies that should be open are open and those that should be closed are closed, with the causes identified and mitigation plans established.”
According to Mr. Bernard, the water testing will be done jointly in conjunction with the East Hampton Town Trustees and will involve the same scientist they use for their testing, Dr. Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.
Ms. Throne-Holst put $100,000 into Southampton’s operating budget to fund a partnership with Stony Brook University that will seek to mitigate excessive nitrogen in town waters.
Dr. Gobler himself compiled the partnership proposal for the town, which has two main objectives. The first is to attempt to identify the amount of nitrogen that needs to be removed from specific waterways in order to improve water quality.
According to Mr. Gobler, “Recently, a series of serious water quality impairments have emerged within Southampton Town waters including harmful algal blooms that have led to declines in seagrasses and fisheries.” One of the prime causes identified as intensifying the algal blooms is excessive nitrogen loading.
In the past two years, thanks to support from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Dr. Gobler has collected enough data to identify how much nitrogen loads must be reduced by in order to minimize the effect of toxic algal blooms on waterways and their ecosystems.
The second prong of this partnership will be to promote an awareness program about nitrogen loading for the residents of Southampton. According to Jen Garvey, Ms. Throne-Holst’s deputy chief-of-staff, some of Mr. Gobler’s doctoral students have developed a “nitrogen home footprint model.”
In this model, which will be available through the town website, homeowners can enter the size of their property, what fertilizer they use, the number of bathrooms, information about their septic systems, and so on. The model then estimates their household nitrogen output and offers personalized solutions for how to remove nitrogen from wastewater.
According to Dr. Gobler, “this proposal seeks to support the Town of Southampton within both efforts by enhancing public awareness of the nitrogen loading problem, how it has changed with time, and how they contribute to the problem, as well as by identifying specific nitrogen loading rate reduction strategies that will lead to improved water quality and ecosystems within Town of Southampton waters.”