New plan focuses on lowering Long Island's nitrogen pollution

Christopher Gobler, professor of marine science at Stony Christopher Gobler, professor of marine science at Stony Brook University speaks beside Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment during a press conference to kick off the Long Island Clear Water Partnership campaign in Farmingdale. (Sept. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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A coalition of environmental groups Tuesday announced a $3 million, three-year public education campaign to rally Long Islanders and pressure politicians to save the region's threatened water system.

Leaders of the newly formed Long Island Clean Water Partnership said at a news conference in Farmingdale that their groups will spend $400,000 a year for three years on TV ads alone. The message: Nitrogen pollution from septic systems and other sources is endangering the water supply and prompting large numbers of beach and lake closings.

"We just had the worst summer ever with pollution," said Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a member of the coalition. "We're losing the battle of the bays. Our bays are dying."

Environmentalists and scientists said one of the principal culprits is nitrogen from sewage that seeps into the groundwater and then into bays and harbors. They also called on the public to do more to prevent polluted runoff and politicians to strengthen environmental protections for the region.

The TV ads have already started airing; radio ads and door-to-door visits in some neighborhoods are also planned, officials said. Funding for the effort came from participating groups and several Long Island foundations.

"Long Island's elected officials need to take action now to protect our most valuable resource -- our water -- before it's too late," said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. The coalition also includes The Nature Conservancy and the Group for the East End.

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This summer saw a dramatic increase in pollution-related beach and lake closings, often because of outbreaks of harmful algae linked to excessive nitrogen. Northport Harbor was closed in May and Lake Ronkonkoma Beach was closed in July and August.

Amper said the campaign will help educate people about many of their actions that damage the water supply, such as using too much fertilizer or flushing unused medicine down their toilets.

Many people pour damaging chemicals, such as oven cleaners and degreasers, down the kitchen sink -- not thinking that they will end up in the water supply, said Bob Deluca of the Group for the East End.

"We have to think about where all these products are going," he said.

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