In July 2013, nine months after Sandy and a year after the founding of Save The Great South Bay, I took a pledge at the first annual Aspen Action Forum to ‘help build a sustainable Long Island.’  The Action Forum draws Aspen Fellows from all over the world — around 350 — for a five day conference on how to address the issues that face us all.   With that, each of us was asked to pledge an action.   That was mine.

The video here is from last year’s Action Forum, where I offer an update from 2013.   Membership in the Save The Great South Bay Facebook Group had tripled to over 1700.    A consortium called The Long Island Clean Water Partnership had formed, comprised of over 100 organizations.    Somehow, people on the local, state and federal level got on the same page, prodded by the science.    Similarly, local reporting on Long Island’s environmental issues, especially around water quality, really came around.     Increasingly, Long Islanders were becoming aware of the challenges our waters face.

Building a sustainable Long Island will take a long time and have to involve all of us, but we really have no choice in the matter.   If its not sustainable, then what is it?   But what will this mean?   It means healthy bays, rivers and ponds.   That will require replacing 500,000 cesspools and septic tanks (or in Suffolk, 209,000 of the 360,000 there).   That would mean sewering, or implementing an emerging technology  – onsite denitrification systems especially where sewers are impractical.   Already $383 million has been allocated to build sewer lines around 4 rivers in Suffolk County that feed into The Great South Bay — The Carll’s, The Patchogue, The Forge, and The Connetquot — an effort that will remove 10,000 cesspools and reduce nitrogen flowing into The Great South Bay by 15%, increasing the likelihood that the bay will make a comeback.    We just need to look for other ways to cut back on nitrogen flowing into the bay.

I’ll be updating my pledge from 2013 to help build a sustainable Long Island this year again at The Action Forum.   For me to register further progress in my pledge, I am going to need your help.   We can’t do much for the moment about the hundreds of thousands of septic tanks that are in need of replacing.   This is an enormous infrastructure project, and will require a political will to make the investment, and will take a decade to complete.   In the meantime, we can pledge to not use quick release high nitrogen fertilizers on our lawns, not to use pesticides, and to dispose of household cleaners, plants, chemicals, batteries, properly.     That’s your drinking water under your feet — left by glaciers.  It’s all we got, and we keep having to drill deeper to find water that’s still potable.  That’s not sustainable.

Maybe if you’re a teacher, have your kids make signs for Earth Day.    3 million in Nassau and Suffolk need to figure out how Long Island can remain a desirable place to live.   If all our bays are dead, all our ponds and rivers, what then?

The amount of local energy on Long Island is staggering.   Every community has an investment in the preservation of its environment, and they are standing up for nature and their future.   That’s how a sustainable Long Island will be built, town by town.