Southold seeks source of water contamination

Water sampling and testing by Southold officials is being used in an effort to bring back shellfishing to an area has been closed to harvesting since 2004. Videojournalist: Randee Daddona (June 18, 2013)

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Southold officials, hoping to get East End shellfishing grounds reopened, are taking to motorboats and kayaks to collect water samples for state testing -- and doing their own DNA analysis to track down possible sources of contamination.

Nine members of the Southold Shellfish Advisory Board have been trained and certified by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to collect samples in East End creeks that baymen believe are fertile grounds for clams, oysters and mussels. The state closed most of the area, known as the Cutchogue Creek Complex, in August 2004, Southold officials said.

"What we're finding in Southold is that water-quality trends are actually improving," John Bredemeyer, a Southold trustee and member of the advisory committee, said Monday. "But the DEC is stretched so thin, they have a daunting task."

He attributed the cleaner water to improved stormwater runoff management.

But water-quality data being used by the state to keep areas of Southold closed to shellfishing are up to 6 years old, Bredemeyer said.

So Southold officials volunteered to help collect samples.

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"It's a cooperative effort with the DEC," said Michael Collins, an engineer with Southold who's working on the water-testing effort. The DEC declined to comment.

On Monday, Bredemeyer and fellow trustee Michael Domino were out on the bay constable's boat at low tide, to simulate the worst water quality.

Bredemeyer dipped a sterilized cup clamped onto the end of a metal pole a foot down into the East Creek. He shouted out the location and time to fellow trustee Michael Domino, who marked the times on a sheet. The sample will be brought to a DEC lab in East Setauket for testing. "Imagine it in December, getting samples from a kayak, with the cold and the wind.""

Bredemeyer was out last winter in his kayak, with Domino onshore, collecting samples from Wickham Creek to the west. They believe the state will loosen restrictions on those areas by summer's end.

At the same time that they collected samples for the DEC on Monday, Bredemeyer also collected samples to analyze the DNA of any bacteria that might be in the water. The Southold Town board earlier this month approved funding for testing by Cornell Cooperative Extension to identify which type of animal might be leaving bacteria that could foul the water.

Each animal, Collins said, has its own specific type of bacteria that lives in its gut. The Cornell Cooperative Extension will check any bacteria found against its database to determine if it is coming from household septic tanks birds, domesticated dogs, raccoons, foxes or other wildlife.

Suffolk County Legis. Al Krupski, an ex-Southold Town Board member, said on the banks of Mud Creek on Monday, that he believes the tests will prove the water is safe.

"People have been opening up clams or oysters from here and eating them for years."

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"It's important to get every square inch of what can be certified opened and kept open," said Nate Andruski, a baymen and president of the Southold Town Baymen's Association.

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