Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Wednesday new policies implemented by social media sites Facebook and Instagram that are intended to limit illegal sales of firearms through the sites. Click here to read more. (more…)
Protecting our surface and ground water is Long Island’s public issue number one. The Long Island Clean Water Partnership has done a great job in increasing public and political awareness. But we must avoid the trap of oversimplifying both the problem and the solutions.
Any campaign has three elements: awareness, education and action. Awareness has been raised. Now the hard work, education, has to begin. Education involves inclusive public discussion, scientific debate and a broad coalition on how best to move forward.
Today, everything’s a 10-second sound bite. However, using sound bites to explain proposed solutions can be harmful to long-term success. For example, in County Executive Steve Bellone’s recent public talks on the water issue, he and others read from the same script we’ve heard over and over again. We deserve more than that. We need more than that.
We need full information to make informed decisions.
Take Mr. Bellone’s main proposal to solve our water problems: prioritize areas with failing septic systems, identify those near existing sewer systems and extend the sewers to those properties. Interesting concept until you look a little deeper.
Now putting priority properties, especially waterfront lots, onto a municipal sewer system will remove nitrogen from septic systems and from leeching into our waters. This is good. But think about this a little more. In Long Island’s history, when you extend sewer systems, high-density residential and commercial development follows. Always has. Always will. So what problems do extended sewer systems and more development add to our current water problems?
First problem is the sewers themselves. Septic systems work by seeping wastewater back into the ground. As the water moves through the soil, it filters out and reduces the concentration of nitrogen and other elements. In areas of high density — too many homes and people on too little land — the ground becomes over-saturated with septic output, thus the filtering of nitrogen and other elements is impaired. Sewers solve that problem, to some degree.
Most of Long Island’s municipal sewage treatment plants, and the smaller community systems which feed into them, take wastewater from the sewers, treat it and pump the resulting effluent into the Sound, bays or the ocean. While this prevents nitrogen from entering the ground, it also means all of that sewered water is removed from the recharge cycle. In other words, instead of returning a large portion of the water we use back to the water table and deeper aquifers, it’s diverted to our surrounding bodies of salt water.
So, increased sewering reduces the amount of water we put back into our groundwater supplies. And near the waterfront, if you remove too much water you lower the water table, salt water comes in to replace it and your well has to be shut down. This is already happening around the island.
In addition, volume from 100,000-plus homes could add a significant amount of total nitrogen being pumped into our already stressed bays. So sewering could add to our water pollution and declining fisheries woes, not solve them.
Many of Long Island’s sewage treatment plants are near capacity. Many need funding for mandated plant updates. Almost all need to extend their discharge pipelines out of our bays and into the more active waters of the Atlantic Ocean. These updates will cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. So the cost of extended sewering is significant.
And while we talk about funding for our sewer and sewage treatment plant needs, it doesn’t even touch upon the planning, development and cost of individual and community high-tech septic systems needed for the vast majority of those homes and businesses which shouldn’t or can never be sewered. We need answers. You can’t ask voters to support solutions unless you’re ready and able to talk about the costs of each option, as well as the ultimate costs of doing nothing.
But this is only part of the problem with extended sewering. As sewering grows, so does development, and open space, which is needed to clean and return rainwater to the water table and deeper aquifers, becomes paved over. Since 20 percent of nitrogen pollution comes in the form of rain and snow, those open spaces are critical to cleansing and protecting our waters. In addition, with open space paved over, a greater percentage of rainwater is routed to the sewers and the sewage treatment plants. That means even less water is making it down to the aquifers — another matter of sewering adversely affecting both water quality and quantity.
Out east, more sewering and more development take us further away from our cherished rural way of life. Those farms and farm stands, open spaces and rural vistas, the quiet rural roads and quiet sandy beaches are the drivers of both the local economy and the reason many people choose to live here. And once that changeover begins, you cannot go back.
Clean water is a complex problem. Sewering should be part of a comprehensive solution but we need more input from scientists, environmental groups and civic associations in discussions with our elected representatives at all levels. Let’s stop the sound bites and oversimplifying things. Let’s start getting more people with scientific backgrounds to work on this complex problem and its complex solutions.
Communicate that, and then we can make informed decisions on Long Island’s future based on dollars, sense and science.
Bill Toedter, a communications consultant, artist and Southold resident, has been president of the North Fork Environmental Council, an advocacy group, since 2010.
I’ll never forget that day in Babylon in the fall of 1998. I was a senior at Mercy High School, playing in one of the final football games of the season, and we were getting our tails kicked in. At halftime the score was so obscenely lopsided that if forfeiting didn’t carry such universal shame, I’m sure most of my teammates would have elected to pack up, get on the bus and head back to Mercy. (more…)
Last week, Joe Fischetti rightly identified nitrogen as a significant cause of declining regional water quality, but I disagree with his view that policy efforts should wait until every technical question is resolved, because I doubt it will ever happen. (more…)
My new best friend goes everywhere I go. He’s the first to greet me in the morning, the last to say good night. The only place he doesn’t follow me is into the shower, and that’s because his electrical circuits will short out if he gets too wet. (more…)
We can agree that nitrates in our surface water are a problem and may be the cause of the brown tide and red tide in the bay. Politicians and environmental groups have proposed that the removal of nitrates from our sanitary systems will mitigate this problem, and are forming a Wastewater Commission, comprising appointed political members to force the removal of all existing sanitary systems within 1,000 feet of the surface waters.
That may sound simple, but on close analysis it is problematic. The removal of existing sanitary systems, especially for older homes, requires excavating and removing nearby trees, and possibly destroying driveways, patios or lawns. After the installation of the new, experimental system, you still will face the task of replanting trees, reseeding lawns and the possible reconstruction of patios and driveways. There would be about 80,000 homes affected, whose owners would need to spend up to $20,000 per home to comply with these new laws. That is a cost of $1.6 billion.
Most of those homes are on the East End’s twin forks.
The problem with this mandate is that the removal of nitrates from individual sanitary systems is a very complex scientific and engineering problem and, at the present time, there is no proven way to remove nitrates from individual sanitary systems. There are some experimental systems, but they have not demonstrated effectiveness over the long term. You do not want to spend that kind of money and destroy all those yards without a proven, long-term solution.
What is needed is a committee of scientists and engineers to resolve the technical and engineering problems first before a law is put into effect.
Solve the technical problems first, then form a commission to implement the effective solution.
Joseph Fischetti, Southold
Mr. Fischetti runs a civil and structural engineering practice in Southold.