Going with the Flow: Saving Carmans River


Despite being one of the healthiest rivers on Long Island, Carmans River in Yaphank needs immediate attention to prevent further takeover by invasive plant species.

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When Europeans first cast their anchors off the shores of Long Island in the early 16th Century, the land they encountered was in many ways different than it is today.  Of course, the Industrial Revolution was still 300 years away, the rampant whaling industry for which Long Island was famed in the colonial era was undeveloped, and the island was mostly covered in a variety of forest types.  Rain water could still permeate the ground unheaded, without carrying the wastes of livestock, and later the remnants of petroleum products.  

The Native Americans who occupied the area, thirteen tribes in all, thrived among an abundance of shellfish and wildlife, and found the land perfectly suited for subsistence farming.  The Island was a perfect ecosystem, and life flowed throughout all the waters around it.
Fast-forward 500 hundred years, and the evidence of the human impact on our local waters is hard to ignore.  Recently a ban on shellfish harvesting was put into effect in Mattituck Inlet and Bay due to the presence of a marine bio-toxin harmful to humans.  Another water quality dilemma is posed by eutrophication, caused by the introduction of nitrates and phosphates (from fertilizers and sewage) which leads to rapid plant and plankton growth, ultimately depleting the water of oxygen and other life.  Dead rivers, whose waters have been overtaken by pollutants and invasive species, such as Variable Leaf Milfoil and Cambomba, common aquarium plants that rapidly spread throughout natural waterways, are not uncommon on Long Island.  Forge River in Mastic is one such casualty.
Even Long Island’s healthiest rivers, such as Carmans River in Yaphank, are now in danger of becoming consumed by invasive species.  Carmans River is one of the four main rivers on Long Island, and originally its waters flowed from what is today the Long Island Expressway out into the Great South Bay.  The river has been artificially re-crafted with the addition of dams that now provide electricity and recreational zones, including two lakes.
Local environmental activist and director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale, Adrienne Esposito, has said that these two lakes now look more like meadows, due to the encroaching Milfoil and Camobomba.  
Efforts to clean the river have, to-date, proved fruitless as they become entangled in the bureaucracies of Brookhaven town and Suffolk County.  County Executive Steve Bellone has pushed back deadlines for water testing at the sites, a necessary step before the process of dredging can begin.  Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider has said that the county is “doing everything we can to expedite the project and allow it to move forward as quickly as possible.”
Cleaning Carmans River is going to require a handful of compromises and quicker action.  In March, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko withdrew a proposal that would prevent development near the 10-mile river.  While supporters of the proposal called it historic, Lesko cited a lack of consensus among the town board members, and some community members viewed the proposal as an open-door invitation for increased development elsewhere in the town.  
While everyone can agree that Carmans River needs immediate attention, an agreeable solution has yet to be presented.  In the meantime, Long Island’s waters continue to flow away from their once pristine and ecologically-rich original conditions.
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