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Schumer: LI should get part of $100M to combat toxic algae

Algae visible on the surface of the water

Algae visible on the surface of the water at the south end of Agawam Lake in Southampton, May 11, 2017. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday promised to use his political influence to push a bill that would help Long Island receive a portion of $100 million proposed to be spent to combat toxic algae bloom outbreaks.

The “Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act,” was introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in May. It would authorize $22 million a year for five years starting in 2019 to protect marine life and conduct research on harmful algal blooms and hypoxia — low oxygen levels — across U.S. waters.

Schumer (D-N.Y.), citing Newsday’s reporting on toxic algal blooms, said Sunday Long Island should get a sizable portion of the money.

“There is a federal effort, but I’m going to give it a big push to get it over the finish line,” he said of the bill. “It protects marine life, bays and estuary waters.”

Outbreaks of rust, brown and blue-green algae have been found across Long Island in recent years. Schumer, referring to Newsday’s reports, noted algal blooms had struck every major bay or estuary on Long Island in the past four months.

Hypoxia — a condition where oxygen levels fall below that sustainable for marine life — was documented in 21 locations, according to the report. And cases of blue-green algae blooms were documented in 15 lakes and ponds, more than in previous years.

They can be harmful to shellfish, finfish, eelgrass, small animals and even humans, depending on the type of algae. The main culprit is nitrogen pollution from old or leaking wastewater systems, officials have said. A brown-tide bloom in Great South Bay this year lasted for 10 weeks — the longest and most intense ever documented on Long Island.

The bill, if approved, would create a task force to submit a scientific assessment to Congress at least every five years on harmful algal blooms in U.S. coastal waters and freshwater systems.

No determination has been made on how money would be spent or distributed if the bill is passed.

“On a bill like this, Long Island should get a good chunk of this money,” Schumer said in an exclusive interview Sunday afternoon.

He promised to use his influence as Democratic Senate minority leader to help pass the proposed legislation. Schumer signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill last week, he said.

Schumer warned such blooms could contaminate drinking water and damage the local economy dependent on fishing if left unchecked.

Schumer said the bill has bipartisan support in both houses.

“I’m going to use whatever clout I have as minority leader to get this bill passed,” he said.

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