BY NICOLE SMITH
It’s no secret that nitrogen is considered the leading culprit in the fight to improve the area’s waterways.
Now, following a summer which saw thousands upon thousands of dead fish float up on local shorelines, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is working to develop a Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) to help fight that battle.
Partnering with the Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRPC), Suffolk County and Nassau County, the DEC’s plan determines nitrogen load reduction targets as well as strategies to meet those targets.
Meetings will be held across the Long Island this month — one of which will be in Riverhead tomorrow — to discuss the best course of action for lowering nitrogen levels. They’ve been considered at “crisis proportions for years, according to some.
The conceptual draft scope plan will be discussed at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center on East Main Street in downtown Riverhead. The event will take place from 1 to 3 p.m tomorrow.
Over 2.85 million people live on Long Island, 1.5 million of which live in Suffolk County, who depend on water from a singular aquifer.
According to the draft LINPA scope, “Rising levels of nitrogen in groundwater are a concern where such groundwater will be used as a drinking water source,” the document reads, noting that some areas have nitrogen levels higher than drinking water standards permit.
Nitrogen, which is a beneficial component of water at certain levels, can also harm animals should the amount of nitrogen exceed those levels, the DEC said. High levels of nitrogen cause algal blooms and increase aquatic weed growth, which then feed off the oxygen in the water, producing “dead zones.”
This leaves too little oxygen in the water and causes large die offs of animals, such as the thousands of bunker fish that washed ashore in Riverhead and Southold towns this summer. Low levels of oxygen also make it difficult for plants to photosynthesize as the algae growth shades vegetation, the LINPA reads.
The report, which is still in its preliminary stages, outlines the goals of the DEC. These include assessing the nitrogen pollution in Long Island’s waters, identify its sources and impact, establishing nitrogen reduction endpoints and developing an implementation plan to achieve reduction endpoints.
Establishing endpoints, or desirable conditions in surface waters, requires two steps:
- “Identifying endpoints for individual estuaries or embayments around Long Island to restore/protect estuarine health and function as well as groundwater resources,” and
- Establishing those landing targets based on preliminary rapid assessments and development of more specific targets based on “higher precision estuarine modeling for meeting ecological endpoints.”