Reporter Editorial: Doing our part for clean water

Reporter water study

The newest town committee has a name that would make an old Soviet Union official proud. Ready? The Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board. The committee in its abbreviated form — the WQIPAB — is no better, becoming a perfect fit for an eye test.

But though the town-sanctioned advisory group might have less-than-graceful identifiers, it could become one of the most important bodies protecting the future of the Island.

With the passage last November of a referendum allowing the town to take up to 20 percent annually from the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) for clean water projects, the board agreed to set up the new committee to identify and vet proposals.

Through the CPF, purchasers of most properties within the county’s five East End towns pay a 2 percent tax, with the money going toward purchasing and protecting area woods, fields and farms. Some of the money can also be used to maintain properties and protect historic structures.

But with November’s election, the CPF is now also charged with being a champion for clean water.

A memo from town officials stated the new committee’s goal would be to “review the need to identify guidelines for prioritizing water quality improvement projects … so that achievements can be evaluated and reported to the Town Board on an annual basis.”

The WQIPAB is now in discussions to allow grants provided by CPF funds to homeowners to offset the cost of updating decaying septic systems, that may discharge dangerous levels of nitrogen into the ground and surface waters.

There are many hurdles to deal with, but the board has a membership that is dedicated to working hard and achieving its mission.

The CPF has never been just about protecting agriculture, or even farms and open space. At its heart, the program that went into effect in 1999 has always been about protecting a way of life the rest of Long Island lost long ago to suburban sprawl. And that includes clean surface waters and aquifers. Now there’s more work to be done to protect the character that identifies the East End. While this has traditionally gone hand-in-hand with protecting farmland and open space, the waters that surround them have degraded over time.

What that has cost the East End is evident, as the number of fishermen and baymen who once earned their money on the water has dwindled to just a relative few.

There are economic and other reasons why fishing has been on the decline (no different from farming) on the East End, but chief among them is our estuaries are stressed out and there haven’t been many clams, oysters, scallops or lobsters for anyone to fish and build a career on. The science is clear: The problem with the health of our waterways can be linked to nitrogen, which causes algal blooms resulting in brown, red and rust tides that decimate shellfish populations.

We applaud the work of our newest committee, not only to protect the safety of the water we drink here, but for doing Shelter Island’s part in protecting the beautiful region we call home.