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Shelter Island town water committee targets the dangerous misuse of fertilizers

A subcommittee of the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) has opted to concentrate its mission by employing two strategies — legislation and education.

WAC member Lisa Shaw, who initiated the discussion of fertilizer misuse that can that contaminate water quality, brought an update to the full committee Monday afternoon.

Legislatively, Suffolk County has regulations affecting applications of fertilizers containing nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium.

Application of fertilizers is prohibited in the County between Nov. 1 and April 1, punishable by fines of up to $1,000. During those months, the potential for nitrogen leaching into the groundwater and runoff to surface waters is greatest, according to the law.

There are mentions of fertilizer disposal and use in the Town Code, but members of the subcommittee want a section of the code devoted to their proper use that is more strict than the Suffolk County law, Ms. Shaw said.

The legislation should provide landscapers to have decals on their vehicles identifying their certification to properly apply fertilizers, she said. Of course, property owners can apply fertilizers on their lawns, but they will be held to the same requirements that are established.

The subcommittee has been looking at regulations in effect on other islands, including Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island, along with regulations in Massachusetts and Florida, to guide their considerations.

As they consolidate what they believe will work for Shelter Island, Councilwoman Meg Larsen said she would bring information on what is sought in terms of legislation to the Town Board with a request for legal guidance in writing a local law.

On the educational side, subcommittee representatives Tim Purtell, who is the Green Options Committee Chairman, and volunteer Lynne Weikart, are working on a brochure to educate the public on proper use of fertilizers and the dangers of their misuse to ground and surface waters.

Local landscapers licensed to apply fertilizers have agreed to give the pamphlets to their customers once the document is complete.

Center water quality

With all numbers tallied, Town Engineer Joe Finora told WAC members there aren’t significant differences than what he saw when only partial test results were available last month of water quality in the Center.

He said he will be working on a public presentation of results. The final numbers included public buildings in the Center in addition to those residential properties whose owners chose to participate in the testing.

Water levels

Water levels in test wells monitored by the United States Geological Survey are increasing, although still below levels for this time of year, WAC member Greg Toner said.

His colleague Ken Pysher reported there have been 39.17 inches of rain to date this year, including 1.7 inches that fell during Monday’s storm. The committee is hoping readings will reach 40 inches by the end of the year.