Fort Pond is a popular fishing spot in Montauk.

Fort Pond is a popular fishing spot in Montauk. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Harmful algae is blooming near the Fort Pond boat ramp in Montauk, shortly after a possible septic leak from a nearby business, officials said Friday, while 14 spots in the Town of East Hampton have medium or high levels of bacteria.

Montauk, with a soaring population during summer vacation, like much of Suffolk is struggling with scorching temperatures and stormwater runoff, conditions officials say are ideal for algae blooms.

Downpours carry nitrogen and bacteria from leaking home or commercial septic systems into creeks, ponds, bays and the sea.

The precise variety of this latest algae outbreak has yet to be identified, according to the Town of East Hampton's Natural Resource Department and a nonprofit, Concerned Citizens of Montauk.

Results for half of 14 fresh- and saltwater bodies tested for bacteria revealed levels high enough to imperil human health, according to the Aug. 9 water quality report issued by Concerned Citizens of Montauk.

Water is tested for bacteria called enterococci that occur naturally in people but signal fecal contamination has occurred, which means "disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa" also could be present, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"This is a bad week for water quality, with many sites [showing] highly elevated bacteria levels," Concerned Citizens of Montauk said in a statement.

The group lists the sites at its website: preservemontauk.org.

Fort Pond, a 172-acre body of fresh water, is a popular fishing spot, home to species ranging from bass to perch to carp, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which has a boat ramp at the southern end.

The DEC and Suffolk County had no immediate comment on whether a septic leak was reported. Home and commercial systems have been failing at higher rates since the pandemic began, officials say, overloaded by the exodus from Manhattan to summer homes.

"I'm just waiting for some test results to come back; we don't know for sure, it's pretty coincidental that we had an overflow and then the next day we had a positive hit in the pond," said Kim Shaw, director of the town's Natural Resource Department.

A manager for the business in question, a 7-Eleven, was not immediately available to comment on whether their sanitary system had sprung a leak.

Montauk businesses now can qualify for as much as $200,000 to defray the cost of installing new "innovative alternative" septic systems, Shaw said. Their advanced technology more thoroughly cleanses wastewater.

And the village is exploring creating a wastewater treatment district, beginning by setting its boundaries, and then determining how best to improve septic systems, Shaw added, a process that could take several years.

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