22, 2015) - Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was joined by environmental,
state, county and town officials Saturday to provide an update on the recent
fish kills on the East End and ask the federal government for additional
assistance to help the region with its nitrogen pollution crisis after the
second major fish kill in the Peconic Estuary, a federally designated estuary
of national significance.
Hundreds of thousands of dead fish have
recently washed up on the shores around Flanders Bay in the Peconic Estuary.
Excess levels of nitrogen spewing from residential septic systems and cesspools
as well as fertilizer use are believed to be a significant, contributing
factor. The Peconic Estuary is one of 28 federally designated estuaries of national
significance by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"We as a region, and as a nation, need to
protect our federal estuaries, and we need wastewater infrastructure to do
that," said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. "Unfortunately,
nothing can be done in the short term to stop this fish kill or an algal bloom
from happening. But to reverse this trend we must continue to invest in and
upgrade our wastewater treatment infrastructure. To do that, we need additional assistance from
our leaders at every level of government to help us combat this problem."
County Executive Bellone indicated a report
citing the specific causes of the fish kills from the New York State Department
of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Suffolk County Department of Health is
expected to be released within weeks.
The New York State Department of Environmental
Conservation (DEC) continues to be the lead agency on the fish kills. However, the Suffolk County Department of
Health has been performing and testing water samples at county beaches and
facilities to ensure the bathing and waterways are safe for recreational
use. The County advises residents and
visitors to adhere to all posted signs at facilities.
"No question the biggest problem is
nitrogen in our waters. We have to get more resources from the federal
government-this is very important," said Jim Gilmore, head of the New York
State Marine Bureau. "We have had
several occurrences of fish kills but never of this magnitude. And nitrogen
exacerbates the problem. We want the
fish in the water, not dying on the beaches. Algal blooms fueled by nitrogen
are making it worse."
what the precise cause may have been, these recent die-offs underscore the
urgency of the situation and the importance of the County Executive’s
leadership in stepping up to confront a challenge that would scare most elected
officials away," said Peter Scully,
Suffolk County Water Quality Czar and former Regional Director of the DEC. "We can't afford not to address the
problem, and we all need to be focused in the same direction. This crisis is
not one for those who focus on short-term gains, or for the weak of heart. This
is a long-term work in progress that will require a long-term commitment, significant investments in infrastructure,
and sacrifices in the form of changes in individual behavior. But as the County
executive has said many times, we can’t afford not to confront this challenge,
because Long Island’s future depends on it.”
Since the first fish kill, the Suffolk County
Department of Health has conducted extensive testing and repeated water
sampling at various waterways, including the South Jamesport Town Beach,
Peconic River, Meetinghouse Creek and Reeves Bay.
"I applaud the County Executive's efforts
to improve water quality, much work has been done, but much more work is left
to do," said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski. "We need to leave the estuary cleaner
and healthier than when we found it."
"If you own grass on the riverfront you
should not be fertilizing it. Period," said Town of Riverhead Supervisor
Sean Walter. "If you have
waterfront property, do not fertilize it. Your moral obligation is to stop
using fertilizers. We are doing so much
to impair the estuary, and we are not giving fish a fighting chance to
County Executive Bellone and officials also
discussed several initiatives and programs the county is participating in to
stop the harmful effects that nitrogen pollution has caused towards the
region's waterways for decades. The initiatives include the following:
With the help of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Charles Schumer,
Suffolk County has secured nearly $400 million in funding for the largest
expansion of sewers in Suffolk County since the 1970s. The funds will be used for 4 sewer projects
which were chosen based on the highest potential to reduce the amount of
nitrogen. The levels would be reduced by
25% in designated areas.
Suffolk County signed an intermunicipal agreement with the Town of
Riverhead to begin a pilot program to test irrigation of our facilities with
sanitized wastewater effluent. The
County also awarded the town $8 million to upgrade its Advanced Wastewater
Treatment Facility, including the construction of a new sewage treatment plant
to meet increased standards of nitrogen removal.
* Suffolk County has identified pilot
programs for implementation in the region in addition to the on-site septic
demonstration program launched in 2014, including Shallow Narrow Drain Fields,
which are used to disperse wastewater to the soil environment as a natural
fertilizer, and Vegetated Gravel Recirculating Filtered Wastewater Treatment
Systems, an innovative, alternative, non-proprietary wastewater treatment
system that reduces nitrogen from wastewater effluent by planting
nitrogen-absorbing vegetation above cesspools.
Suffolk County protects its waters by actively acquiring open space
around vulnerable bodies of water. The Suffolk County Legislature recently
passed a resolution that allows the County to extend an offer to acquire Broad
Cove, a 99-acre parcel of land located at the mouth of the Peconic Bay in
Riverhead. This cove is considered by the Nature Conservancy to be one of the
top 10 Long Island properties in need of protection.
Suffolk County will host an Algal Bloom Symposium next month where
leading national experts will convene to discuss and identify ways to monitor
and manage harmful algal blooms.
Suffolk County recently released a comprehensive water resources
management plan. The 1,000+ page action plan lays out a number of additional
programs and initiatives the County will be undertaking in order to stem the
tide of nitrogen.
County officials also noted that there is no
threat to the region's drinking water supply, and encouraged residents who get
their water supply from private wells to have their wells tested every 6-12
For more information on the County's update
pertaining to the recent fish kills or the latest initiatives to reduce
nitrogen in the region's waterways, visit