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Blue Water Task Force Releases Annual Report (2017) On Water Quality: Looks Good But Could Be Better For East End

The report is based on 50 sites in both East Hampton and Southampton where water was sampled by trained volunteers and analyzed. (Photo: Nicole Barylski)

The Eastern Long Island Surfrider Chapter, Concerned Citizens of Montauk (CCOM) and Peconic Baykeeper released its annual report "summarizing water quality data collected during 2017 through their Blue Water Task Force water quality monitoring program."

The report is based on 50 sites in both East Hampton and Southampton where water was sampled by trained volunteers and "analyzed for the presence of enterococcus bacteria that indicates fecal pollution from human or animal waste, and the presence of other pathogens that can make people sick."

These samples for water quality data were then compared to the "national water quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health in recreational waters and used by the County to issue beach closures and swim advisories."

The East End's ocean and bay beaches are usually safe for water activities for most of the year, however, the report does advise that people should take care especially during the peak season summer months and after rain to check water quality conditions before actually getting into the water.

According to Colleen Henn of Surfrider Foundation, "The good news is that results from ocean and bay beaches usually come back very clean, because any potential pollution is flushed and diluted with tides and wave action. Unfortunately, we did see a number of high results in the ocean towards the end of the summer following heavy rain events."

The report does state that, "Stormwater runoff is the number one cause of beach closures in the United States. Rain flowing over roads and other hard surfaces carries pollutants like car oil, animal waste, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers into our waterways. On the East End most homes and businesses have individual septic systems or cesspools situated above high groundwater tables, where flooding conditions and extreme tidal events can cause septic waste and nitrogen-rich wastewater to enter our ground and surface waterways." So homeowners - check those pipes!

The East End's ocean and bay beaches are usually safe for water activities for most of the year. (Photo: Eileen Casey)

Sean O'Neill, the Executive Director of the Peconic Baykeeper, explained, "Our waters are clean, and we at Peconic Baykeeper are in charge of monitoring more protected waters. Two areas of particular concern to us are Meschutt Beach and Ponquogue Bridge Marine Park." Both are located in Hampton Bays, and as O'Neill explained, "These are both heavy recreation locations for the beaches and also for shore and scuba diving precisely because they are protected. We have seen high bacterial contamination levels in both locations, especially after a heavy rain or a holiday such as Memorial Day or July 4 when the beaches are heavily populated. To be prudent, we would urge visitors to these two locations to check the water quality."

Chenn continued, "Although we can't make any conclusions yet about [the results in this report] we are keeping an eye on our ocean sites in hopes that trend does not continue in 2018."

Kate Rossi-Snook, Environmental Advocate for CCOM, advised, "We have known that open water beaches at the bay and ocean are typically very clean, and we have known that heavy rains result in elevated bacteria. But the alarming trend that has come into focus recently is that during markedly high tides - whether from storms, strong winds, or even a full moon - groundwater may seep into old cesspools and outdated septic systems bringing the fecal bacteria directly into our surface waters."

The report shows an analysis of samples that indicate, "(1) bacteria levels are higher in closed systems with minimal to no flushing, (2) bacteria levels are higher during the summer months, and (3) bacteria levels are higher after rain events." On the East End most homes and businesses have individual septic systems or cesspools situated above high groundwater tables, where flooding conditions and extreme tidal events, can cause septic waste and nitrogen-rich wastewater, to enter our ground and surface waterways.

Chenn, O'Neill and Rossi-Snook all strongly urge beachgoers to "Check our data before going to the beach." All Blue Water Task Force water quality data are publicly available online at surfrider.org or through the Swim Guide App for mobile devices (www.theswimguide.org).

Note: The "Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) data is being used by, and in conjunction with several municipal and nonprofit partner projects aimed at addressing some of the documented water quality issues at sample locations through advanced monitoring, source tracking and/or remediation projects. Some notable examples include: CCOM and the Village of East Hampton have both partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey to undertake microbial source tracking studies in Lake Montauk and Hook Pond, respectively; The Town of East Hampton is addressing water quality issues in Fresh Pond, Pussy's Pond and Georgica Pond; and Surfrider, the Village of East Hampton and the Ladies Village Improvement Society installed a bioswale in the East Hampton Village Green to treat polluted road runoff."

To view the full 2017 Water Quality Report with data analysis and case studies go to: surfrider.org.

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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