Fresh Pond makes NY list of 'impaired waters'

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Environmental scientist Lara Urbat, taking a question from the audience at Friday’s Town Board Meeting. A new study classifies Fresh Pond as “impaired.”

Fresh Pond has been found to have high levels of phosphorus requiring it to be labeled “impaired waters” by New York State.

This had come as news when Shelter Island’s Watershed Management Plan (WMP), a scientific study of the town’s surface water bodies — bays, creeks, harbors and ponds — was presented to the Town Board Friday.

Resident Emory Breiner asked Lara Urbat, an environmental scientist with Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, the environmental engineering company that conducted the study, to repeat that Fresh Pond was an impaired water body and Ms. Urbat confirmed it.

Mr. Breiner then directed a question to Town Attorney Laury Dowd, who is a member of the MS4 Committee, which stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. “Laury, when we go to MS4 meetings we had found we had no impaired water bodies,” Mr. Briener said, “and had to just watch Fresh Pond.”

“I had not realized it had been added to the impaired list,” Ms. Dowd said.

Ms. Urbat said Fresh Pond had been added to the list “recently,” but didn’t “remember the exact time frame.”

Walter Richards, a member of the Water Advisory Council, asked if high levels of phosphorus in the pond was something new or “has it been there forever?”

Ms. Urbat said there was not enough data to tell, but her “best guess is it has been occurring over a period of years because the levels are so high.”

Earlier she had said the phosphorus might have found its way into the pond from dishwasher or laundry soap. “That was prior until a couple of years ago when all soaps contained phosphorus,” Ms. Urbat said.

Asked what the consequences of the high levels of phosphorus would be, Ms. Urbat said harmful algal blooms could occur.

Councilman Paul Shepherd asked if blue-green algae could be occurring and Ms. Urbat said it was possible.

Human exposure to blue algae results in the symptoms of poisoning, including diarrhea, vomiting and high fever.

Funded by New York State to conform to the Federal Clean Water Act, the goal of mandated watershed management plans is to improve surface water in the state’s municipalities.

The Town Board has scheduled a public hearing on the Watershed Management Plan for Tuesday at 1 p.m.