Organization Highlights Top Three Issues Facing Water Quality on Long Island

Long Island, NY | August 30, 2012

In advance of Labor Day weekend, The Nature Conservancy reminds the public to think about where their water comes from –underground –and to understand the importance of keeping that water supply clean and protected.

When you go swimming this weekend look down, can you see your toes? When you go fishing is there more salad on your hook than at your BBQ? Is it safe to eat the shellfish from your local waterways? If not, have you ever wondered why?

 “Many Long Islanders will be using or drinking local waters this weekend, but most don’t realize that the water we all use comes from under our feet, under our driveways and lawns, under the places we flush our toilets and even under the Long Island Expressway,” said Carl LoBue, senior marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “That said, the water that we drink and the water that flows from underground into our bays and harbors, is compromised by what we put into it. Most people don’t know that the number one threat to our water quality is from septic waste flowing into our waters.”

 “In order to ensure a clean and healthy water supply for Long Island’s present and future, we have to take additional and collective measures to protect water quality, starting with decreasing the amount of nitrogen that is flowing into our waters,” said Kevin McDonald, director of conservation finance and policy for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “The threats to our waters can be reduced if we act now to address them. The public needs to understand what the problems are before they can support solutions.”

 The Nature Conservancy has identified the Top Three Threats to Water Quality on Long Island:

  1. Pollution from Nitrogen which Leads to Brown and Red Tides
    Nitrogen, primarily sourced from sewage flowing into our waters, leads to brown and red tides. In addition to being unsightly, red tide closes shellfisheries around Long Island with devastating economic results for baymen and aquaculture businesses alike. Shellfish feeding on the organism that causes red tide can accumulate a neurotoxin in their bodies that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning -- people and wildlife can die from eating such tainted shellfish. Brown and red tides also impact tourism, recreation, and wildlife.
  2. Aging or Inappropriate Infrastructure --Septic Systems, Cesspools and Sewage Treatment Plants
    Septic systems and cesspools, sewage effluent from Long Island’s aging sewage treatment plants, plus residential, agricultural, and commercial fertilizer application combined with air pollution from the regional burning of fossil fuels all pollute our waters. Failing cesspools and septic systems in close proximity to surface waters, storm water runoff from things that collect on our streets and driveways, failing underground waste water infrastructure, such as broken clay pipes that connect homes to sewer lines, and improper disposal of human waste by anybody including boaters are all culprits.
  3. Outdated laws to protect water quality
    Science tells us that the current drinking water quality standards and programs have failed to protect our drinking water and our waterways; degrading our maritime economies and our quality of life. Our underground aquifers require a new mandatory water quality standard of 2 mg/L for dissolved nitrogen to protect and restore our only supply of drinking water and the water quality in our harbors and bays. Currently, there is no one single agency responsible for ensuring the health and protection of Long Island’s waterways; cooperation and participation of all levels of government is paramount to the sustainability of this resource in the future.

The Nature Conservancy and partners are working to maintain and restore water quality. The group is looking to establish a new ground water nitrogen standard at the New York State level that protects public health as well as the health of bays, harbors and streams across the Island. This will require preserving open space, modernizing existing infrastructure and restoring habitats in areas shown to have degraded water quality.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Kara Jackson
Director of Communications
PO Box 5125

East Hampton, NY 11937
631-329-3981, ext 20


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