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Long Island waters are dirtier, but there’s hope

Brown tide at the Quogue canal bridge on

Brown tide at the Quogue canal bridge on June 23, 2016. Credit: Stony Brook University/Christopher J. Gobler

Bad news is never fun to hear, but sometimes you need to hear it.

That’s the case with the recent report on water quality around Long Island. The conclusion: It’s not good, and it’s getting worse.

The analysis from Stony Brook University Professor Chris Gobler and the Long Island Clean Water Partnership might be depressing, but it also shows the necessity of the many good steps taken recently by local and state officials to start cleaning Long Island’s waters. But it also counsels patience. It took the region a long time and decades of polluting to get to the impaired state it’s in; it’s going to take time and effort for the new initiatives to make things right.

So, what specifically is wrong? Among other things, in 2017 Long Island saw its longest and most intense brown tide bloom, stretching across the South Shore from Nassau County into Suffolk, toxic blue-green algae infected an all-time high 14 freshwater sites, and rust tide and paralytic shellfish poisoning also set unwanted records. The sobering conclusion: Things will get worse before they get better.

But they will improve, thanks to increasing government support and new technology. The state included $2.5 billion for water quality in its current budget, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo started a $10 million effort to restore shellfish that filter nitrogen, Suffolk is embarking on a grant program to help homeowners replace substandard septic systems, Nassau is moving toward more widespread use of an ocean outfall pipe to avoid dumping treated sewage into Reynolds Channel, and the East End towns have set up a recurring fund to protect water quality.

Change is coming, but it must be sustained and funded before an annual report on Long Island’s water quality delivers the kind of news we enjoy hearing.