02/17/14 1:00pm
02/17/2014 1:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay.

The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay. (Barbaraellen Koch Photo)

Protecting our surface and ground waters is L.I.’s public issue number one. The L.I. 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.  (more…)

10/13/13 8:00am
10/13/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Danielle Raby, who manages the garden center at Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport, points out the golden-yellow leaf color on a native variation of witch hazel called Arnold’s Promise, another plant suitable for a rain garden.

Pleasing to both the environment and the eyes, rain gardens are one way homeowners can take an active role in protecting the local aquifer while also creating a scenic backyard setting.

When rainwater from homes and properties flows into stormwater drains, it brings along the pesticides and pollutants it picks up along the way, said Sharon Frost with the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District.

That stormwater doesn’t get any filtration, she said, adding, “It’s all about stormwater remediation.”

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Low-maintenance river birch trees do well in wet soil.

Rain garden landscaping, also known as bayscaping, involves planting native shrubs, vines and trees in an area designed to catch stormwater runoff.

The native plants work as tiny filters that trap pesticides and pollutants in the stormwater runoff and prevent them from reaching groundwater, Ms. Frost said. They also help attract native butterflies, bees and birds, she added.

Plants and trees have deeper root systems than grasses, which helps aerate the soil. The water can then be absorbed and filtrated, she said.

“The great thing about native plants is that, once established, they are really very maintenance-free. Most are resistant to pests and tolerant of the local weather conditions,” said Anita Wright, assistant director of environmental education for Group for the East End.

Ms. Wright works with community groups and schools, including Shelter Island High School, where she helped build a rain garden last spring.

A rain garden needs to be planted in a shallow depression, which can either be naturally occurring or can be dug in an area near your home, Ms. Wright said.

“You want an area that is well-drained. An area where rain has completely absorbed into the ground within 12 to 14 hours,” she said.

“You don’t want stagnant water, which might attract breeding mosquitoes,” she cautioned. “Sand can be added below soils to help speed up absorption.”

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The rain garden behind the Cornell Cooperative Extension building on Griffing Avenue in Riverhead helps collect and filter stormwater runoff from area buildings and cars.

The garden should be placed five to 10 feet away from the home’s foundation – and near a downspout. Homeowners can direct rainwater from impervious surfaces, like a roof, into the garden, Ms. Wright said.

“I have one in my yard and it is absolutely beautiful. There are so many native plants to choose from and local nurseries are carrying more than they used to,” she said. “They attract so many butterflies and bees – they can be really breathtaking.”

Many people also add stepping stones, benches or hammocks to their gardens so they can relax there when the weather is nice, Ms. Wright said.

What makes fall the perfect time of year to think about building this type of garden is that many of these native plants are on sale, said Danielle Raby, garden center manager at Shade Trees Nursery in Jamesport. The nursery sells more than a dozen native species.

She recommends planting river birch, a tree that originates in the Northeast. “They are low maintenance and great in wet soil,” she said.

For shrubs, Ms. Raby said Clethra, also known as a sweet pepperbush, offers sweet-smelling white flowers in the summer and turns a golden yellow in the fall. It is native to Long Island, she said.

Residents in the Reeves Bay and Hashamomuck Pond watershed have an opportunity to earn cash for this type of conservation landscaping, thanks to a new rewards incentive designed by the Peconic Estuary Program, a public-private partnership focused on improving the quality of water in the Peconic Estuary system.

About 1,670 property owners are eligible to receive up to $500 each to build rain gardens or conservation landscaping on their property using native plants. The total reward depends on the size of the garden, which must be a minimum of 50 square feet.

“It’s on a first come, first served basis,” said Jennifer Skilbred, education and outreach coordinator for the program. “The more homeowners we get involved, the better.”

A total of $50,000 in federal funding has been secured for the program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she said.

For more information on the rewards program visit the program website.

Tips on building rain gardens — including a list of native plants — can be found on the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County website, www.ccesuffolk.org.

cmiller@timesreview.com

08/03/13 2:30pm
08/03/2013 2:30 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Baiting Hollow farmer Jeff Rottkamp turning over one of his fields earlier this year for the planting of early sweet corn.

Growing sweet corn on the North Fork is an art form. It takes time, attention and plenty of fertilizer to ensure crops have enough nutrients to thrive.

The results are delicious, but the process can cause unintended harm to the environment, namely pollution from nitrogen that seeps into ground and surface water and feeds damaging algal blooms.

In an effort to achieve a successful harvest while protecting the environment, Suffolk County farmers are participating for the second year in a conservation project this summer to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizers on sweet corn and potato crops. The technology, called controlled-release fertilizer, is designed to break down gradually according to the plant’s need for nutrients. The product would replace conventional fertilizers that can dissolve during heavy rains and enter local water systems.

Cornell Cooperative Extension and American Farmland Trust are spearheading the water-quality improvement project. CCE is working directly with 35 farmers to calibrate equipment to apply fertilizers at the correct rate. To test the product’s efficiency, samples will be taken from corn and potato crops produced with traditional fertilizer and controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer to determine if both crops are receiving adequate nitrogen, according to AFT.

“Long Island farmers are well aware of concerns about drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary,” said David Haight, New York director of AFT. “Our project offers practical ways for farmers to sustain crop yields while reducing nitrogen entering the water.”

Last year’s program had 10 participating farmers, who were able to cut their fertilizer use by an average of 20 percent while sustaining farm productivity, according to AFT.

Marty Sidor, owner of North Fork Potato Chips in Cutchogue, said the product fits well in his planting and fertilizing plan.

“It’s very user-friendly,” Mr. Sidor said. “I have seen crops that store better and I have not seen one deficiency in the field through all this time.”

Fourth-generation farmer Phil Schmitt, owner of Schmitt Family Farm in Riverhead, is having similar success with the conservation methods.

“We practice very intensive agriculture,” he said. “We started to see that the land was getting a little tired.”

To regenerate the soils, Mr. Schmitt employs an integrated pest management approach to reduce his use of pesticides and spreads compost to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. As a part of this initiative, Mr. Schmitt is using controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer on all of his sweet corn.

He made the switch, he said, “to do the right thing.”

To encourage participation, the program provides risk protection for farmers interested in reducing dependence on traditional fertilizers, but concerned about possible yield losses. The farmland trust and AgFlex, a private company that manage the risks farmers face when adopting conservation practices, introduced the protection policy to 10 Suffolk sweet corn growers in 2012. It pays farmers cash if a new conservation practice, such as switching to a controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer, reduces yields — and therefore income.

Becky Wiseman, CCE’s agricultural environmental stewardship coordinator who works with farmers on the program, said it addresses water contamination, one of the toughest issues local farmers have ever faced. The region’s aquifers, the sole source of drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary, suffer from heightened levels of nitrogen, according to the farm trust.

Suffolk County long ago recognized that safeguarding agriculture involves safeguarding agricultural lands. Suffolk launched the country’s first farmland preservation program in the 1970s. Before that, aggressive real estate development reduced land in active farming from 100,000 acres during the mid-1900s to the current 34,000 acres. Without the action, Long Island would have lost nearly all of its farms, Mr. Haight said.

Today, agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy. Suffolk County ranks first in New York in annual farm sales, with more than $300 million in farm products sold in 2010, according to the trust.

“We hope Suffolk County will once again be a national leader by demonstrating that it’s possible to work with farmers to protect water quality while keeping farms economically viable,” Mr. Haight said.

cmurray@timesreview.com

01/13/13 10:00am
01/13/2013 10:00 AM

A dredge spoil disposal map showing current dumping sites.

Don’t dump dredge spoil in eastern Long Island Sound.

That was the message some speakers had for the federal Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday at a hearing on finding potential sites to replace two existing dredge disposal sites in eastern Long Island Sound.

Others argued that dredging is necessary to maintain a water-based economy.

The meeting, held at Suffolk County Community College’s culinary center in Riverhead, was billed as a “notice of intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the potential designation of one or more ocean-dredged material disposal sites to serve the eastern Long Island Sound region.”

There are four such dredge dumping sites in Long Island Sound now, one dubbed the Western Suffolk site, south of Stamford, Conn.; one called Central Long Island Sound, south of New Haven; one called Cornfield Shoals, north of Greenport; and one called the New London site, just west of Fishers Island.

The Cornfield Shoals and New London sites are scheduled to be closed on Dec. 23, 2016, and the EPA is looking for new sites for dredge disposal, which was the subject of the hearing.

Most of what is disposed in these sites comes from Connecticut, according to the EPA. That’s because the dredge material from Long Island is mostly sand, and can be used for beach restoration, whereas most of the dredge material from Connecticut is fine-grained silt or clay and cannot be used for beach restoration.

The Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment doesn’t think any dredge spoil should be dumped in Long Island Sound, according to the non-profit group’s executive programs manager, Maureen Dolan Murphy.

That group opposed the designation of the two western Long Island Sound sites in 2004 and opposes designating new sites, as well.

“It did not make logical sense that after millions of dollars spent on restoring the Sound, we would designate it as a long-term dumping ground,” she said.

She said CCE agrees that dredging for navigation safety is necessary, but that open water disposal for dredge materials is not.

She said EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2005 agreed to phase out open water dumping and to develop a “Dredged Material Management Plan” before deciding on its next step.

But that plan has never been developed, Ms. Murphy said.

“CCE believes it is risky and ill-advised to proceed with a long-term designation of an open-water disposal site before the final development of a DMMP,” she said. “Particularly since the goal and intent of the DMMP was to reduce open water disposal.”

Southold Town Councilman Al Krupski, who is running for Suffolk County Legislature in a special election being held Tuesday, echoed those sentiments.

“If Long Island Sound is a federally designated estuary, how do we propose to use it as a dump site for toxic spoil?” he said. “It just doesn’t’ make any sense.”

The Fishers Island Conservancy also objects to any further open water dumping sites in Long Island Sound, and feels EPA should look to areas outside of Long Island Sound and Block Island Sound for dump sites, according to Robert Evans of the FIC.

“We’ve been concerned for many years about the damage caused by the large-scale disposal at the New London site,” Mr. Evans said. “The Conservancy was party to the 1995 lawsuit that resulted in a 2002 settlement providing for the EPA’s formal designation process for dredged material disposal sites.”

He said the last large-scale dumping in the New London site was seven years ago, when about 400,000 cubic yards of dredge material was dumped there.

“The lobster population was greatly harmed and few believe the damage was coincidental,” Mr. Evans said, adding that the waters near the site have very strong currents and shallow depths.

“Dumping spoil in those waters is akin to throwing dirt into a fan,” Mr. Evans said.

Daniel Natchez, who owns a Mamaroneck-based environmental waterfront design company, took the opposite side of the argument, saying that people need to consider the economic impacts of not dredging.

“If you don’t dredge, the material that everyone is concerned about just sits there, and you swim in it, or have recreation in it,” he said, adding that people won’t have access to waterways.

“These are things that are going to have an adverse effect to quality of life,” he said.

And Bill Spicer, who owns Spicer’s Marina in Noack, CT, near Mystic, also feels that dredging is needed for the economy.

“Connecticut has billions of dollars at stake on the waterfront,” he said.

He suggested the dredge disposal sites be put in Connecticut waters, since Connecticut uses them more often.

tgannon@timesreview.com