The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is currently working on a “conceptual draft scope” document for their Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, designed to address the harm that excess nitrogen from septic systems and fertilizers is doing to our aquatic and marine ecosystems.
Members of the public will have a chance to discuss the plan with DEC representatives next Tuesday, Feb. 2 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center at 20 East Main Street in Riverhead. They’re asking prospective attendees to RSVP here.
The full scoping document is online here.
The plan, called LINAP by the DEC, will provide an assessment of existing groundwater quality and quantity and surface water quality data and then determine nitrogen load reduction targets and projects that can be used to meet those goals.
According to the scoping document, the “migration of nitrogen in groundwater is impairing surface water embayments at crisis levels.”
While public health professionals have long used the threshold of 10 parts per million of nitrogen as the maximum safe level in drinking water, the marine and aquatic ecosystems where the water from Long Island’s aquifers eventually drains face major disruptions at as little as .3 to .4 parts per million of nitrogen, causing excessive algae growth and “dead zones” where there is no oxygen in water bodies.
Excess nitrogen also causes marsh grasses to grow more shallow roots, because the nitrogen is readily available on the surface of the marsh, leading to further degradation of the salt marshes that protect Long Island from the impact of storm waves.
The state has earmarked $5 million for the plan, which is expected to address the Peconic Estuary system, bays along Long Island Sound and South Shore estuaries throughout Long Island.
The plan is being drafted in two phases. The first focuses on short-term actions, and the second “will require a greater degree of technical and policy action, which will require a longer timeframe.”
Another aspect of the plan considers that when homes are raised as part of the recommendations of the anticipated U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study (FIMP), sewers may be placed in these low-lying areas to replace existing septic systems.
The plan does caution that “areas where homes are to be potentially elevated are of variable feasibility for sewering. Many areas are somewhat remote and less feasible, whereas other areas are nearer to treatment plants, or otherwise have density that could make sewering or clustering more feasible.”
The plan also recommends that communities that work together to meet nitrogen reduction goals be branded “Nitrogen Smart Communities,” similar to the “Climate Smart Communities” initiative.
More information on the plan is on the DEC’s website here.