On Long Island, we find ourselves drawn to the water that surrounds us. It calls us, and we seek it out.
The water is a place to swim and boat, to fish and surf, to paddle and sail. We walk and bike along its shore, stretch out before it to read a good book, and eat dinner while gazing at its moonlit beauty. For some of us, it’s a place of work. For most of us, it’s a place to play. It’s a magnet for tourists and a sanctuary for our overworked and overstressed selves.
But over the years, we’ve treated it badly — mostly, by dumping nitrogen in it. Some of that comes from the fertilizers we use on our lawns and crops. A little comes from the air. But most of it comes from the cesspools and septic tanks that inadequately filter the wastewater we produce at home and at work.
We know all this. The science is rock solid.
We also know what excess nitrogen has done to our water.
It has fueled the algal blooms that have decimated our shellfishing industry. It has killed much of the eel grass that makes up the marshlands that protect us from storms. It has depleted oxygen levels, creating dead zones in which fish cannot survive, as in three big fish kills in the Peconic River in 2015. It can turn some lakes, like Agawam Lake in Southampton and Lake Ronkonkoma, so toxic that swimming and other activities in them are banned.
It’s taken a long time, and lots of studies and public education, but most Long Islanders understand well the region’s nitrogen problem.
They also understand that something must be done to address it.