Two reports on Long Island’s waters arrived this week. One landed with a depressing thud. The other inspired optimism.
The first analysis, by Stony Brook University Professor Christopher Gobler, described the crisis in our region’s estuaries this summer. The culprit was nitrogen pollution, primarily from household sewage, and it caused the most widespread rust tide algae blooms in Long Island history, and blue-green algae blooms in more than 20 of the region’s lakes.
The second report found that the open waters of Long Island Sound are cleaner and clearer than they have been in years. The improvement has taken nearly 25 years, and is the result largely of hundreds of millions of dollars spent to upgrade sewage treatment plants that dump into the Sound from the Island, Connecticut and Westchester County.
Therein lies a lesson for the rest of our waters: Money plus relentless focus plus coordination among different levels of government plus public support can improve what seems to be an intractable problem.
Lawmakers, advocates and the public must continue to push for and support promising plans to attack nitrogen. Like Suffolk County’s proposed $390-million sewer expansion to get 7,000 homes off cesspools and septic systems. And the county’s efforts to make it more affordable for other homeowners not on sewers to switch to high-tech alternative septic systems. And a bill in the county legislature to require installation of a high-tech septic system by anyone buying at auction one of about 50 homes Suffolk seizes every year for nonpayment of taxes.
We can clean our waters, if we stick with it.