Sadly, but predictably, we were right. The torrential rains Andrea brought also washed millions and millions of gallons of contaminated ground water waste into our ponds, streams, rivers and bays, and forced the closure of a number of beaches on Long Island. Sadly, we can continue to predict when this will occur again, along with the explosive algal blooms that have emerged throughout Long Island over the last ten years, wiping out whole habitats. The numbers don’t lie. High levels of nitrogen from over 100,000 septic tanks, the slow motion ecological disaster that is the crippled Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, the lawn fertilizers, the pesticides, the storm runoffs – into over 2000 outfall pipes and then into our rivers and streams. Brown tides in Shinnecock, Moriches, and Quantuck — all predicted, all massive. Long Island is actually setting global brown tide records. Over 1 million cells per liter. World Record. But that should not be surprising because if Long Island (only Nassau and Suffolk) were a country, it would be the 4th most densely populated, just behind Bangladesh. And like Bangladesh, we do not have a sewer system to speak of. Thirty years ago, such blooms were unheard of. Now their intensity grows exponentially, and that same time that 40 years of unbridled, unmanaged growth on Long Island is reaping its reward — ecological collapse, water unsafe to swim in after a heavy rain, the very water we drink, bathe in, cook with, increasingly compromised by seepage from the polluted layers above.
The good news is we also predict this — That if the citizenry of Long Island knew the true extent of the problem, and developed the right strategies, we could restore our bays, rivers, and beaches for future generations, bring back clams, oysters, recreational fishing, make our waters safe for swimming, protect LI from future storms and protect Long Island for future generations. Right now we are in crisis, and sadly what we see each day is predictable. But the same insight that helps us to predict also helps us to imagine what it would take to restore our waters. This is not rocket science. Modernize our toilets, septic tanks. Make them 21st Century. That is 70% of the problem. Rebuild The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant intelligently. It was dumping 85% of the nitrogenous waste in The Western Bays BEFORE Sandy. Now its a crippled mess dumping millions of gallons of ‘semi-treated’ waste into Reynolds Channel, and worse, for example during a recent power outage. Wean people off lawn fertilizer and pesticides. We believe that if most people connected the dots and said “If what I am putting on my lawn and spraying in my garden eventually ends up in the ground water/storm runoff goes directly into the streams and ponds around us, choking them with algae and toxins, and then goes into the bay, where many in our community make their livelihood, they’d say their neighbors and their community matters more than having some ‘perfect’ lawn whatever that meas. Natural plantings could for instance bring back a great variety of birds.
Here’s a useful graphic for those interested in LI’s weather over the weekend:
Tropical Storm Andrea is bearing down on us, and bringing with it up to three inches of rain. These days, however, it is not the rain we need concern ourselves with, or the high surf, but the septic runoff this soaking will produce. With over 500,00 septic tanks in Suffolk County alone, it will be our septic ground water flowing into our rivers, streams, ponds, and bays, and along our beaches that will force the closure of a number of Long Island beaches over this coming weekend. When it rains our waters suffer. The bacteria counts explode and our beaches become hazards. The water literally becomes dangerous to be in. So as night follows day, a heavy rain will close the beaches. Every time – or at least until we make some changes, and we don’t need to stop the rain to stop the pollution. .
The same thing happened on Memorial Day Weekend. Heavy rains, it was reported, closed the following beaches:
Centre Island Sound
Laurel Hollow Beach
North Hempstead Beach Park
Piping Rock Beach Club
Sea Cliff Village Beach
Biltmore Beach Club
Hewlett Point Beach
Island Park Beach
Merrick Estates Civic Association
Philip Healey Beach
Look for these beaches to be closed again. As we dig deeper into the issue it turns out that not only are septic systems and aging leaking sewage infrastructure hurting our surface waters, they are also damaging Long Island’s only supply of clean drinking water – the underground aquafers that supply the water we cook with, drink, and shower with.
Long Islanders — all 2.8 million of us — live right on top of our ‘aquifer’ — above the water that sustains us. Over the last 50 years, because we built and built with no long term plan in mind, because we came to glorify our well fertilized lawns without thinking about what happens to that burst of nitrogen when it hits our ground water in a good rain, because we love our black top roads, because we have 2000+ outfall pipes running from our roads directly to our harbors, we have been gradually killing our bays, making our beaches unfit for swimming and making our shellfish unfit to eat. Think too of the 115 pesticides that will wash into our waters, the oil and gas washing from our blacktop. Today, we are poisoning the very water that sustains us, and which future long islanders have entrusted us with.
As we built and built, we never thought a minute about building something that future generations would enjoy. That’s the real issue here. If Long Island (Nassau/Suffolk) were a separate country, it would be the fourth most densely populated in the world, right behind Bangladesh. Our rail, road, electrical, and sewage infrastructure is at the same time 50 years out of date. How are we to build a sustainable Long Island?
Save The Great South Bay also predicts that our waters can be rescued and restored. Scientists and engineers have identified the causes of pollution and have developed proven solutions. We believe that public awareness of the plight we are in is the necessary first step to building a sustainable Long Island, a place where for generations to come people will be able to fish, clam, swim, and bathe in our bays, and where we can continue to drink from, shower and cook with fresh water from below ground. So pass this on — this prediction of beach closure, with the explanation as to why this will happen by Saturday. The more people know why this is happening, the faster we can all decide to what has to be done to restore our waters.
As you batten down the hatches this weekend, think of how sick we have made our ground water, and what we all need to do to restore our waters for the sake of the future.