With $100 Million At Stake, Suffolk County Executive Bellone Unveils Major Water Quality Report To Combat Harmful Algal Blooms That Impact Long Island

Developed with Scientists And Academics, Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan Outlines Comprehensive Strategy.

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

Photo by: Suffolk County Via YouTube

Suffolk County, NY - September 25, 2017 - Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone today announced that the Suffolk County Department of Health Services Division of Environmental Quality released its Suffolk County Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan, the first comprehensive and integrated strategy ever developed to guide the work of multiple levels of government, scientists, and academia to address increasingly frequent algae blooms that have plagued marine waters, threatening both Suffolk County’s environment and economy. Release of the Plan comes as the United States Senate is considering a bill that would provide $100 million in new funding to combat algae blooms.  A copy of the plan can be found here.
 
“More frequent harmful algal blooms, fish kills and beach closures are all stark reminders of the water quality crisis Long island is facing, and the importance of having government on all levels, scientists and academia working as a team to develop science-based solutions,” said Suffolk County Executive Bellone. “Now, thanks to our work with New York Sea Grant and the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Suffolk County has the very first comprehensive strategy ever developed to begin addressing the challenges of harmful algal blooms at a time when the federal government is poised to provide funding for that purpose. The timing of our work could not be better.”
 
The result of close collaboration between the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, New York Sea Grant, and Dr. Christopher Gobler, Associate Dean of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, the Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan process brought together scientists from across the nation to review available data and hear from experts considered preeminent in the field of HAB research.
 
The top strategic priority in the plan is the reduction of loadings of nitrogen and phosphorous to ground and surface waters, through the replacement of non-performing cesspools and septic systems with new Innovative/Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems, and the adoption of additional measures to regulate the amount and composition of nitrogen-based fertilizers. In addition, the Plan calls for the establishment of a HAB Management Workgroup to coordinate Plan recommendations, and for significant new investments in water quality monitoring, research and public outreach. 
 
Key Report Recommendations
 
Upgrade Septic Systems to Reduce Nitrogen and Phosphorous
Onsite residential and non-residential wastewater is the principal source of nitrogen in many Suffolk County waters. This recommendation accords with and complements existing County plans to improve wastewater treatment in the un-sewered areas of Suffolk County that are in close proximity to coastal waters.  Of these areas, initially targeting those that are adjacent to poorly flushed coastal waters will do the most to retard HABs in the near future.  
 
Promote Subwatershed Pilot Projects that Treat Nutrients 
Activelyendorse/promote subwatershed pilot projects, such as the Georgica Pond pilot project, that will feature interception/treatment of nutrients in domestic wastewater from homes around the Pond, more frequent opening of a cut between the Pond and the ocean, and the real-time monitoring of groundwater and Pond waters to gauge the effect of these actions on ambient nutrient levels.  Lake Ronkonkoma should also be considered a prime potential sub watershed pilot area. 
 
Establish Management Workgroup to Coordinate Implementation of Action Plan
The Workgroup would have representation from governmental agencies at various levels, university scientists, local National Estuary Program offices and others entities involved in HABs.  Under the aegis of the HAB Management Workgroup, convene an annual workshop of collaborating agencies to achieve inter-governmental cooperation and consistency in HAB and nutrient management policies/practices. Suffolk County and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation should jointly implement this recommendation and lead the HAB Management Workgroup, drawing on the assistance of the New York Sea Grant and Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences as necessary.
 
AdoptManagement Measures to Regulate Nitrogenous Fertilizers
Cooperatively work with farmers to implement the Suffolk County Agricultural Stewardship Plan to reduce the leaching of nutrients into groundwater from agricultural practices. Moreover, assess the effectiveness of existing residential fertilizer regulations and consider modifications as necessary. 
 
Support Green Infrastructure Projects that Limit Discharge of Nitrogen  
Examplesinclude the construction of a sizable rain garden at Centerport Beach whereapproximately 80 percent of stormwater is captured, thereby increasing infiltration and degradation by soil bacteria. These pilot projects should also be incorporated into sub watershed pilot areas such as Georgia Pond and Lake Ronkonkoma.
 
Real-Time Monitoring of Cyanobacteria in Lake Ronkonkoma 
Deploy a sensor buoy in Lake Ronkonkoma for real-time monitoring of cyanobacteria and the physiochemical parameters that are important in cyanobacterias blooms. 
 
Develop an Integrated Monitoring Program 
Consider use of state-of-the-art imaging recognition technologies at sentinel sites, as is being done in HAB monitoring programs in in Texas, California and Massachusetts. Also explore the possibility of citizen science which has been done for the Long Island Sound but not for HABs.  
 
Utilize Technology to Provide a Centralized Flow of Information 
Suffolk County and other agencies involved in HABs and HAB management should consider establishing a web site, app and/or a hotline to provide county residents with the most current information about HAB’s in County waters and provide an opportunity for citizens to report abnormal environmental phenomena, such as discolored water, fish kills, etc. that might indicate an incipient or active HAB.  Any such initiative should incorporate some sort of feedback mechanism so that someone using it can beassured that his/her message was received and some specific response was forthcoming.  
 
Public Outreach andEducation Program
The HAB outreach/education program would be an adjunct to County efforts to inform and educate the public on the general problem of nutrient pollution of surface waters and the benefits of nutrient limitation/control.  This could include producing fact sheets and video series, public signage at HAB "hotspots", public lecture series and online, interactive "ask the expert" sessions.
 
Assess Feasibility of Utilizing Seaweed Farms and Shellfish Aquaculture Facilities
Assess the possibility of utilizing seaweed farms and/or suspension-feeding shellfish aquaculture facilities as a way to reduce nutrient levels in County waters and/or to forestall or mitigate the development of HABs. The County has funded a small-scale demonstration project through the Marine Program of Cornell Cooperative Extension on the feasibility of field culturing a localkelp species in the waters of Peconic Bay, where HABs are a frequent occurrence.
 
Support Shellfish Restoration Efforts 
Actively endorse/promote resource restoration efforts such as, but not limited to, shellfish (scallop, clam and oyster) restoration and submerged aquatic vegetation.  These should be based on metrics and criteria and be aligned with results of ecological endpoint monitoring.  Future restoration efforts should follow consistent specific monitoring protocols so they can be accurately and consistently compared across geographies. 
 
Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn said: “Being an island, we all live by the bounty provided by our surrounding waters.  As such, we are all very much tied to the health of our aquatic ecosystems, which not only nourish our quality of life, but also our economy,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, Chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee.  “This action plan will provide the overdue framework necessary for addressing the underlying causes of local Harmful Algal Blooms, and will serve as a model for other communities tackling this expansive problem.  I thank the authors of this plan and the County Executive for their work and commitment to improving water quality.”
 
Dr. Christopher J. Gobler, Ph.D., Professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Co-Director, New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University, and a key contributor to the Plan, said: “In January 2014, Executive Bellone stated that improved water quality would be the top priority of his administration.  This HAB Action Plan is yet further evidence of the County Executive's focused, sustained, and significant campaign to follow-through on that promise. Harmful Algal Blooms are a very serious threat to human health, fisheries, ecosystems, and the economy in Suffolk County.  This plan sets forth near and long term actions the County will prevent, control, and mitigate these HABs."
 
William Wise, Director of New York Sea Grant, who helped develop the Plan, said: "In releasing this plan, Suffolk County gets out ahead of the Harmful Algal Bloom issue with management actions that will reduce the frequency and severity of future blooms and sets out priorities for future HAB research funding, such as that now being sought by Senator Schumer through the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2017."
 
Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said: “Suffolk’s plan to aggressively address toxic tides is a welcome and needed response. Nutrient reduction is key to a successful approach in reducing toxic algae blooms occurring across our island.  Reseeding estuarine systems, targeted dredging of bottom sediments, bioextraction, upgrading existing sewage treatment plants and replacing aging septic and cesspool systems are all critical components in battling algae blooms.  Suffolk’s action plan provides both short-term solutions and long-term changes to address this challenge.  Kudos to Suffolk County Executive Bellone for his leadership in working for clean water on Long Island.  This plan is a model that municipalities across New York State should adopt to address harmful algae blooms.”
 
Kevin McDonald, Conservation Finance and Policy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, said: “Harmful algae blooms are seriously impacting our environment, our economy, and the quality of life in Suffolk County. This report highlights how we might begin to fix our nitrogen pollution problem and thereby reduce the impact of these harmful algal blooms. Recent funding from the State of New York as well as Suffolk County will start us down the path to fix our water quality problems on Long Island, allowing us to begin implementing some of these recommendations now. We look forward to working with New York State, Suffolk County and all the others engaged in the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, to reduce the extent, severity, and persistence of harmful algae blooms throughout the Island.”