The Great South Bay’s main issue is water quality. What’s polluting it? Scientists claim that 69% of the excess nitrogen in the bay is from septic systems, but then there is also runoff to consider — from lawns and roads, through storm drains and outfall pipes.
This is no more apparent than when there’s a heavy rain.
How Heavy Rainfall Affects the Great South Bay
Anyone living on The South Shore these days will tell you that after a heavy rainfall, the bay suffers, and local beaches close. Between the failing low lying septic tanks and the animal waste, the fecal coliform counts quickly exceed safe levels. Along many of our creeks, the stench is obvious. Throw in pesticides and fertilizer from our lawns, and grease, oil, and trash from our roadways, and that adds up to quite a toxic stew for the bay.
The nitrogen from the septics, the road runoff (atmospheric deposition) and lawn fertilizer (an outmoded and destructive practice, in our view) all contribute to our brown tide issue. [pic]
A Lost Legacy?
The first major brown tide hit The Great South Bay in 1985, effectively ending large scale clamming on the bay. Since then the brown tides have grown longer and more intense, generally, and with each year the prospect of saving this bay dims. The amount of pollution running into the bay from surface water and groundwater day by day, and after a good rain, contributes to the bay’s ongoing deterioration. For those who fish or sail, for our oyster farmers, for all those who remember what was, this are difficult times.
Beach Closures This Year in the Great South Bay
We’ve seen shellfish beds and beaches across Long Island closed regularly because of poor water quality, especially after a heavy rain.
- On August 8th, The Suffolk County Department of Health and Services issued an advisory against swimming in 35 beaches on the Great South Bay including Venetian Shores Beach, West Islip Beach, Islip Beach, East Islip Beach, West Oaks Recreation Club Beach, Brightwaters Village Beach, and Bayberry Beach & Tennis Club.
- On July 26th an advisory against swimming was issued in 73 beaches across Long Island after excessive rainfall.
- On July 18th, the Suffolk County Government Health Officials issued an advisory bathing warning for 63 beaches, including some on the Great South Bay.
In each case, people were warned about the dangers of touching this bateria laden water, that it would take two tidal cycles to flush out.
Improving Water Quality in The Great South Bay
Other than replacing our cesspools and septic tanks via sewering or modern onsite systems — an enormous and necessary project — there are things we can do as people and as communities to improve the bay’s water quality. Save The Great South Bay, through its Creek Defender Program [link] champions the restoration of native habitat along the 42 creeks that feed the bay. Filter the water with trees, bushes, shrubs and grasses, and the water entering the creeks is that much healthier. The bay is a symptom. It’s the mainland that’s sick. Our solution? Go native!
Save The Great South Bay also promotes ‘Bay Friendly Yards.’ What if you could restore habitat and filter the groundwater via native plantings right at home? What if your yard didn’t need any fertilizer, pesticides, or extra water because you were planting what should be there in the first place? If we planted on our properties what belongs there, our local environment — and the bay — benefits.
Finally, Save The Great South Bay is a major advocate for the expansion of shellfishing industry. In 1976, the clams in The Great South Bay filtered 40% of the bay water every day. We need to now expand our oyster farming, in part to cure the bay. An oyster filters many times more water per day than a clam. In addition, an oyster commands many times more wholesale. In other words, healthy waters lead to profit, which leads to healthier waters, etc. Whatever we do on the mainland to mitigate pollution from stormwater runoff will pay dividends for the bay and The South Shore.