Water quality problems including increasing algal blooms that closed shellfishing areas, record-setting levels of bacteria, and the death of a Jack Russell terrier last summer have pushed Long Island environmental groups to fight for improvements.
The groups Thursday are launching a campaign to protect water supplies in the aquifers, bays, creeks and embayments that they say are being damaged by high levels of nitrogen, pharmaceuticals and toxic compounds.
"We need to fund and mandate that some government entity be responsible for water quality," said Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.
Among the recommendations:
Establish a regulatory authority to manage Long Island's water resources;
Require upgrades to sewage treatment plants and septic systems;
Require a yearly report on the state of aquifers.
"We're going to clean up our water or we're going to perish environmentally and economically as a region," he said.
Last year, the groups' summit defined water problems in the region. This year's focuses on actions to treat the water system as a whole, said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End. "We really need to put all of this stuff under one hood and that will probably make it easier going forward," he said.
Long Island is served by a network of aquifers, which provide drinking water and supply fresh water to bays, creeks and lakes. The Upper Glacial aquifer is closest to the surface, followed by the Magothy and the Lloyd.
Between 1987 and 2005, nitrogen concentrations in the Glacial aquifer increased by 40 percent and by 200 percent in the Magothy, according to a Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan in 2010.
The nitrogen can be traced to wastewater, said Chris Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. About 70 percent of Suffolk County relies on septic systems.
Nitrogen levels in groundwater meet current drinking water standards, Gobler said. But the concentration in surface water can trigger algal blooms that can be toxic to fish, shellfish and humans, he said.
Tighter limits on the amount of nitrogen allowed in groundwater could protect surface water, said Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito.
Often referred to as red, blue or brown tides, the blooms' intensity has increased locally.
In 2003, blue-green algae developed in some areas and in 2004, a red tide. In 2006, blooms appeared in Northport and have developed every year since, except for 2007.
In 2011, the concentration of bacterial cells found in Meetinghouse Creek in Aquabogue set a world record, Gobler said.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation last year closed shellfishing areas earlier than usual -- in April -- and in new locations. In September, a Jack Russell terrier died in East Hampton Town and a necropsy revealed traces of blue-green algae, or Cyanobacteria, which causes liver failure.
"It's an indication for sure that these things are coming at us fast and furious," DeLuca said.
Proposals to protect Long Island's ground water and surface water supplies:
Develop septic system upgrade program to use advanced, safer technologies
Create clean-water plan, with goals, enforceable regulations and consequences
Develop public education strategy
Pass laws requiring proper pharmaceutical disposal
Reduce fertilizer use