Two of the charter members of The Long Island Clean Water Partnership, The Citizen’s Campaign For The Environment, and The Group For The East End, offer this overview of the state of Long Island’s waters — what is polluting them and what we can do about it. The CCE’s Adrienne Esposito and the GFTEE by Bob DeLuca.

Long Island gets its drinking water from the ground. Whatever we do on the surface eventually makes it into the aquifer, and into our drinking water, our rivers and bays.

The largest issue is nitrates from septic tanks, from the 200+ small sewage treatment plants, and from fertilizer, both residential and commercial leaching into the ground water, and then to our bays, where they trigger massive algal blooms — brown tide, red tide, rust tide, blue green algae. These blooms have already destroyed much of our bay’s habitats, resulting in a collapse of the shellfish and finfish population. To reverse this situation, we must impose much stricter limits on how much nitrogen can enter into our ground water from the plants, farms, and from the 500,000 septic tanks that dot Long Island.

Another major threat to Long Island water is VOCS (volatile organic chemicals). While there are 254 superfund sites on Long Island, the largest source of these VOCs are household products — cleaners, paint strippers, aerosols. 100,000 tons of household hazardous waste is disposed of improperly every year in New York.

A further threat is the 117 pesticides now found in our drinking water. Even when banned, they remain in our environment for decades.

Finally, the improper disposal of household pharmaceuticals means that these drugs are entering into our ecosystem, with effects unknown. We must stop flushing or throwing out unused prescriptions, but dispose of them only at designated county locations.

In all, there are a number of things we can do now to help LI become sustainable for future generations: Push for new technologies and new policies that would limit nitrogenous waste from our septic and sewer systems. Stop using high nitrogen lawn and agricultural fertilizers. Dispose of your household waste properly. Any chemical you use at home will end up in the ground water unless disposed of properly. Don’t pour oils, grease, and chemicals down the drain. Use green, friendly home cleaning products.

Finally, since the major contributor to Long Island’s water problems has been overdevelopment (without the requisite infrastructure to support it), we need to protect what green spaces we have left.