Water Quality Report Sheds Light on Nuanced Health of Bays

Pictured above: At the Sagg Pond sampling site | Blue Water Task Force photo

The East End’s Blue Water Task Force released its 2019 water quality report in early August 2020, which shows some key successes and some malingering problems in the tributaries that drain into our local bays.

The Blue Water Task Force, a citizen science project backed by Surfrider Foundation Eastern Long Island, Concerned Citizens of Montauk and the Peconic Baykeeper, engages community members to monitor water quality at more than 60 sites from East Quogue to Montauk, augmenting the Suffolk County Health Department’s monitoring, which is done only at county-designated lifeguarded bathing beaches.

Citizen scientists collect water samples that are tested for the presence of enterococcus, a fecal bacteria that indicates the presence of human or animal waste in the water, and in the past had tested samples for blue-green algae at Dr. Christopher Gobler’s laboratory at Stony Brook Southampton.

After having to suspend lab work because of Covid-related access restrictions at Stony Brook University, the task force will be using a new lab at the Peconic Baykeeper’s office in Hampton Bays to process samples collected in East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Southampton. 

Concerned Citizens of Montauk has been providing continual water quality information for East Hampton and Montauk, even during the Covid shutdown, at their lab at their office in Montauk.

One particular success in 2019 was at the sampling site at Industrial Road on Fort Pond in Montauk, where bacteria levels exceeded state health standards 32 percent of the time in 2018 but “did not exceed the health standard even one time in 2019,” according to the report.

“The restaurant and hotel at the nearby Surf Lodge did undergo a state of the art septic system upgrade during the spring of 2019 to serve their seasonal business,” the report adds. “While further testing is needed to see if bacteria rates will stay low again this year, it is hopeful that better treatment and handling of wastewater at this lakeside establishment will continue to support cleaner water in the Fort Pond.”

At the Georgica kayak launch sampling site | Blue Water Task Force photo

The New York State standard requires fewer than 104 colony forming units of enterococcus per 100 mL sample.

The report also credited CCOM’s “Save the Lake, Save the Pond” program, encouraging neighboring property owners to install updated septic systems, with improving water quality in Fort Pond.

Another area that saw improvement in 2019 was Georgica Pond in East Hampton.

At the kayak launch on Montauk Highway, bacteria levels exceeded state standards 70 percent of the time in 2018 but just 50 percent in 2019, while at the Cove Hollow Access site, levels exceeded standards 64 percent of the time in 2018 but just 32 percent in 2019.

“The cut between Georgica Pond and the ocean was open for much longer during 2019 than it was in 2018, and this likely contributed to more flushing of clean ocean water into the pond and lower fecal indicator bacteria levels,” according to the task force’s report.

Much ocean and bay beach testing done by the task force’s volnteers comes back clean, but many creeks, ponds and outfalls that receive high volumes of stormwater runoff, along with smaller, stagnant water bodies, have chronically high bacteria levels.

At the Havens Beach sampling site in Sag Harbor | Blue Water Task Force photo

Thees include the outfall pipe at Surfside Place in Montauk and the Methodist Lane Swale in East Hampton Village, and Pussy’s Pond in Springs and the David’s Lane Duck Pond in East Hampton Village.

In Southampton, the task force’s sampling sites on the beach in both Mecox Bay and Sagg Pond exceeded bacteria standards 32 percent and 39 percent of the time, respectively.

“This is alarming because despite seasonal problems with Cyanobacteria/Blue Green Algae blooms, people and especially children and dogs, do still wander into these waterways as they walk along the beach,” according to the report, which also showed continuing problems in Weesuck Creek in East Quogue and Little Fresh Pond in North Sea.

But “both Meschutt Beach in Hampton Bays and Circle Beach in Noyac both saw bacteria levels drop, with a high bacteria rate of 15 percent in 2018 to only 7 percent in 2019. Likewise, the high bacteria rate measured at Windmill Beach in Sag Harbor dropped in 2019 to 15 percent from 25 percent in 2018.”

Nationwide current data from the Blue Water Task Force, including East End locations, is online at bwtf.surfrider.org. The 2019 report is online at easternli.surfrider.org.

The groups say the purpose of their data is “to provide water quality information to inform safe beachgoing and aquatic recreation and
strive to make our data readily available to the public. Swimmers should take precautions swimming in marine or freshwater after heavy rain events for 24 to 48 hours.”

Beth Young

Beth Young built her first boat out of driftwood tied together with phragmites behind her family’s apartment above the old Mill Creek Inn in Southold. Nowadays, she spends most of her time kayaking, learning about shellfish, writing newspaper stories, trying to sail a Sunfish, and watching the way the bay changes from day to day. You can send her a message at beth@peconicbathtub.com

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