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Activists at Earth Day symposium discuss ways to clean up LI water

Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens

Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society speaks at The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington Earth Day event Saturday. Credit: David L. Pokress

Long Islanders must clean the area’s groundwater and shores before harmful algae destroys fish, drinking water, and outdoor recreational activities, environmental activists said Saturday.

During a Earth Day-themed symposium at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, scientists, lawmakers, and environmental conservationists detailed what’s plaguing the drinking water under Long Island and what’s being done to fix the problem.

Andrew Griffith, a marine biologist from Stony Brook University, said fertilizers and wastewater from homes were creating large amounts of nitrogen that eventually funnel out to Long Island shorelines. The nitrogen attracts harmful algae like brown tide and rust tide, which gathers in large blooms.

“We’re noticing these blooms in places that we haven’t normally seen them before and these blooms are becoming more intense,” Griffith said.

Before a crowd of about 50, Griffith presented research that showed Suffolk County residents produced 2.4 milligrams of nitrogen per liter in the 1980s and now that number is at 3.6 milligrams per liter.

To counteract algae, some Long Islanders are introducing shellfish back into the water while others are trying to reduce the amount of nitrogen pumped from homes.

Griffith said he and a team of Stony Brook researchers were dumping bivalves into western Shinnecock Bay.

“We’re literally kicking thousands and thousands of hard clams into that water,” he said, adding that clams feed on algae and purify water.

Kevin McDonald, policy director at the Nature Conservancy, said there was a push to have homeowners install nitrogen removal technologies in their plumbing systems that would scrub wastewater before it hits Long Island’s aquifer. State and local grants are available to lower the costs of installing such removal systems, he said.

McDonald said the nitrogen systems cost about $20,000.

Richard Amper from the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also spoke during the event.

Englebright mentioned the 2017 Clean Water Infrastructure Act, which gives municipalities grant money for improving water infrastructure. Englebright called the act “a down payment” on cleaning up drinking water, but said it showed legislators’ commitment.

“It’s really an $85 billion problem, but $2.5 billion is a start and it’s a solid start,” he said.

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