Pollutant-laden stormwater presents one of the greatest threats to our estuaries with direct impacts on water quality, public health and the vitality of our aquatic resources. The conveyance of pathogens, notably fecal coliform bacteria, has led to closure of over 40,000 acres of shellfish beds in Long Island waters. And many of our popular bathing beaches face systematic closures after heavy rainfall. Resulting nutrient loads trigger harmful algal blooms in nearshore creeks and bays throughout the South Shore and Peconic bays. Despite existing knowledge of the problem (including technologies to reduce and filter stormwater pollution), there have been too few efforts in our region to stem the flow of stormwater into our local waters. Peconic Baykeeper’s work to combat the insidious problem of stormwater began in 1999, when it conducted a Peconic estuary-wide survey of stormwater outflows. In a related effort, the organization conducts an ongoing review of the permitted discharges under the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) throughout the South Shore and Peconic watersheds. By targeting local municipalities where stormwater conditions are a threat to water quality, the Baykeeper works to educate the public, introduce progressive approaches to stormwater remediation, provide ongoing water quality monitoring, and engage community support of policies and project development in select municipalities.
Stormwater Action FocusHavens Beach, Sag Harbor
The pollution problem at Havens Beach has been a reoccurring topic of concern in the Sag Harbor community dating back to 1997. A stormwater drainage system that bisects a 20-acre waterfront park collects runoff from neighborhood roads and residential properties, and empties it into an open ditch that flows directly into the bay. Through the years, stormwater pollution at Havens Beach has resulted in bans on swimming and shellfish harvesting.
Over 10 years ago, the Sag Harbor Village obtained both state and federal grants to remediate the stormwater pollution problem but subsequently lost both grants on separate occasions because it failed to act in a timely fashion. Peconic Baykeeper revitalized discussion on the issue by featuring it prominently in the 2007 Baywatch report: “Focus on Stormwater Runoff Pollution.” At the time, village officials responded with skepticism because water quality reports from the Suffolk County Health Department did not suggest a level of contamination that would cause alarm. Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister argued that the frequency of water quality testing in the area was insufficient to convey the complete picture of contamination emanating from the ditch and committed to working with Stony Brook-Southampton Estuarine Research Program to implement a rigorous water-testing program at the site.
In January of 2010, Dr. Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University presented a report to the Sag Harbor Village Trustees based on more than 18 months of water quality monitoring that confirmed high levels of bacterial contamination in the ditch itself and adjacent bay waters. The report findings were corroborated by the Suffolk County Health Department and Cornell Cooperative Extension Service, and determined that a source of the bacterial contamination is human, possibly from failing septic systems. Currently, village officials are considering the available options for remediation. The Baykeeper is recommending that the ditch be configured into a shallow marsh system that would naturally filter the drainage water and reduce the contamination. Marsh biofiltration systems have proven to be effective in the treatment of contaminated stormwater.
A constructed marsh biofiltration system proved successful in remediating a situation with similar conditions in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. Peconic Baykeeper will assist the Village in identifying potential funding sources for the project should its Board of Trustees support the project. This project would not only address the pollution problem, but also enhance habitat and aesthetics in the park. We remain hopeful that the current village leadership will embrace this approach.
Read more about Havens Beach
Green’s Creek, Sayville Green’s Creek in the Sayville area (Town of Islip) and part of South Shore’s Great South Bay is another area where stormwater pollution has degraded water quality and where Peconic Baykeeper supports community efforts to promote alternative approaches to the problem. Here, stormwater runoff is discharged into the creek via 39 outfall pipes, half of which collect flows from densely developed residential areas. Peconic Baykeeper advocates for the implementation of Islip Town’s 2007 “Green’s Creek and Brown’s River Watershed Management Plan.
DEC Challenged on Stormwater Pollution
In July, Peconic Baykeeper joined the Natural Resources
Defense Council and other New York State Waterkeepers in a lawsuit against the
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for its failure
to effectively reduce water pollution from stormwater runoff. The lawsuit focuses on a general permit
issued to municipalities every five years for operation of storm sewer systems. Under the Clean Water Act, the permit
must reduce polluted runoff enough to achieve water quality standards for
fishing, swimming, shellfish harvesting and other uses. Runoff is often laden with fertilizers,
pesticides, animal waste, petroleum products and sediments and is a significant
threat to the health and vitality of our bays.
Deficiencies in the permit include the failure to ensure
adequate cleanup of pollution in waterbodies where the state has set maximum
pollution limits, not mandating that towns and villages reduce stormwater
pollution and a lack of monitoring requirements. As currently drafted, the
permit has no teeth and if the permit is weak, then compliance and enforcement
is going to be weak. We are
hopeful that the court will remand the permit and instruct DEC to include
meaningful measures that will protect our region’s waterways.
For more information about Stormwater go to:
"Baywatch 2007: Focus on Stormwater Runoff Pollution"
Haven's Beach: Drainage pollutes
Finish Havens Beach
Pipes trasporting stormwater runoff