Following recent fish kills and turtle die-offs in the area, a pilot program aimed at reducing nitrogen in local waterways may start at Iron Point in Flanders.
Their backs facing the mouth of the Peconic River, town and county officials gathered outdoors Saturday for a press conference at the Riverhead Yacht Club, where they called upon the federal government to provide financial assistance to help address water quality issues in the wake of two fish kills. (more…)
We’ve been reminded a lot in recent weeks that fish kills are a regular occurrence in these parts, and aren’t anything new.
These comments are being made mostly to cast doubt on assertions by scientists and other researchers that high nitrogen levels and the resulting algal blooms are to blame for depleted oxygen levels in area waters — hence all the dead fish. Yes, local environmental organizations have used recent fish kills to push their agendas — albeit noble ones — and figure out how to prevent such high levels of nitrogen from reaching our waters moving forward. But they’re doing so for good reason.
There were bunker kills in 2008 and 2009 as well — and there’s no denying that massive kills have been happening for as long as anyone around here can remember. But it’s also a fact that for generations, Long Islanders from Brooklyn to Montauk have been polluting our waters with chemicals, fertilizers and, if you go back far enough, even raw sewage.
Just because people weren’t talking about nitrogen in the 1960s or 1970s doesn’t mean it didn’t play a part in fish kills back then, or even just a few years ago. It’s only relatively recently that researchers have been able to identify nitrogen — most of it coming from our wastewater — as the culprit responsible for the unhealthy state of our local estuaries and shellfish.
The passage and funding of the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the funding that came with it, along with fertilizer restrictions and more efficient sewer treatment plants, have improved the state of our bays and Long Island Sound. But it’s all been a zero-sum game in the face of nonstop residential and commercial development.
With development came people, and their outdated septic systems — all sending more waste into groundwater and surrounding surface waters. Deny that or not, but wouldn’t common sense dictate we shouldn’t go to the bathroom where we drink? People in Southold and more rural areas of Riverhead are right to be wary of installing more public sewers, because that does often lead to more housing, but they can’t have it both ways. The movement now is toward figuring out more efficient methods of filtering our residential waste, and doing so in a way that’s financially feasible.
Even if people are skeptical of the researchers, keeping our most precious resource as clean as possible is a goal worthy of time, attention and, most of all, government funding — because it’s clear that developing, installing and maintaining newer technologies is going to be expensive.
A recent die-off of bait fish in the Peconic Estuary has Riverhead Town rallying local fishermen to harvest as many bunker as they can before the fish die, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.
“It’s a critical situation,” Mr. Walter said. “We’re having a real problem.”
The die-off has been blamed on low oxygen levels in nearby waters caused by a recent algae bloom, said Christopher Gobler, a biologist at Stony Brook University who’s been investigating the kill.
“This may be the biggest fish kill I’ve ever seen and I’ve been working for more than 20 years,” he told the News-Review.
The kill comes weeks after a separate massive die-off of diamondback terrapin turtles, which has also been linked to toxic shellfish likely caused by the algae — also known as red or brown tide.
Mr. Gobler said oxygen levels in the Peconic Estuaries began dropping Wednesday night as the algae became more dense. By Friday, readings from the County Road 105 bridge showed zero oxygen in the water for the fish to breathe.
When a school of bunker swam into this “dead zone,” they suffocated and died, he said. There have been reports of thousands of the dead bunker washing up along town and private beaches.
“This is a pretty remarkable size fish kill,” Mr. Gobler noted. “There were fished piled on top of each other on the shoreline.”
Mr. Walter said that may pose a public safety hazard. While the town is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Mr. Walter said they’ll need to dispose of the dead fish somehow.
Ideally, the fish would be cleaned up and moved to the Brookhaven landfill, if the DEC allows that, he said. Otherwise, Mr. Walter said he may declare a town-wide state of emergency to clean up the fish and bury them at the town’s own waste facility.
“We’re ready to take action, we just don’t know what action we’re going to take,” Mr. Walter said. “The next 24 hours will tell.”
While the town waits for DEC approval, Mr. Walter said local boat captains have been contacted to round up bunker in the Peconic Estuary before they continue to die off.
Nate Phillips, a commercial fisherman from Greenport, is one of those boat captains. Normally, fishermen are only allowed to take a certain quota of bunker, which are used by lobstermen and other fishermen as bait. Mr. Phillips said those restrictions may be voided during this crisis.
“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to get it cleaned up before they all die,” he said. “When they die they’re a terrible, stinky mess.”
Mr. Phillips told the News-Review he was rounding up a group of fishermen — as many as five or six boats — to harvest the fish using haul seines, scoop nets, or “basically whatever we can get them with.”
The harvest could begin as early as Saturday night.
Mr. Gobler said fish kills are not unusual, but they’re not seen as often in other parts of Long Island where the bunker group together to spawn.
“There’s very few places on Long Island where oxygen levels are going to zero for multiple hours,” he said. “That’s not normal.”
Mr. Gobler said nitrogen runoff likely fed this specific algal bloom, nicknamed “mahogany tide.” Shallow creeks and tributaries of the river are especially vulnerable to algae blooms because the nitrogen gets concentrated in one area.
Historically, the Peconic Estuary has had relatively low oxygen levels to begin with, Mr. Gobler said. With these blooms moving in, the River will “probably have oxygen problems through the summer,” he said.
“It’s going to hit low and no oxygen levels throughout the summer,” he said. “But there may not be the equivalent fish kills because … the fish will sense the low oxygen levels and turn around.”
The search for the next Peconic Baykeeper is once again on.
Seven months after he signed on as the public face of the nonprofit water protection advocacy group, Brady Wilkins resigned from the Baykeeper position last Monday, said Brendan McCurdy, the organization’s chairman.
Mr. McCurdy said the split was amicable and that Mr. Wilkins plans to return to his teaching career. (more…)
The new Sag Harbor-based group, Defend H20, has emerged as a fearless environmental organization with a broad agenda.
It not only has the toughness to engage in battles against environmental wrongs, but a commitment to provide education so governments can do the right thing.
For example, the group, founded by Kevin McAllister who is its president, was integral in Brookhaven Town’s recent adoption of more stringent regulations for the discharge of nitrogen from sewage disposal systems in the Carmans River watershed. (more…)
Several million dollars in the state’s newly passed $142 billion budget has been allocated to fund water quality initiatives across New York State, including two projects on Long Island.
Here is a breakdown of water quality initiatives supported in the 2015-16 state spending plan:
What’s going on?
The state budget includes $5 million in funding to create The Long Island Nitrogen Mitigation Plan, a comprehensive strategy for mitigating nitrogen pollution in Suffolk and Nassau county waterways.
Why is it needed? (more…)
On April 2, East Enders will celebrate an important milestone: The Community Preservation Fund will have generated over $1 billion and preserved more than 10,000 acres of open space and farmland. Approved by voters in 1999, the CPF uses a small tax on real estate purchases to preserve land and protect drinking water.
It is arguably the most successful land preservation program in the country. (more…)