Working To Keep Nitrogen Out Of Our Waterways

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Judi Bosworth
Judi Bosworth

One of the most pressing challenges facing us in the Town of North Hempstead and across Long Island is how to address the issue of water quality and sustainability. I have been advocating for years to protect our aquifers, which are the sole source of our drinking water, because it is so important to conserve water and manage this precious resource. Indeed, these efforts have begun to come to fruition with the recent announcement by Governor Andrew Cuomo of the dedication of $6 million in state funding for the Long Island Groundwater Study, which will enable us to better manage our groundwater resources collaboratively. Thanks to the advocacy of the Western Nassau County Aquifer Committee, of which I am a member along with State Senator Jack Martins and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, a necessary and accessible tool will be created for use by all key water management partners. In addition, reports will be created that include safe yield determinations and saltwater intrusion models. This is a meaningful step in the right direction in our journey toward preserving our precious natural water supply.

One of the most important things we can do to protect our aquifers and bodies of water is reduce nitrogen pollution. Some of the main causes of nitrogen pollution are cesspools, septic systems and runoff from lawn fertilizers.

High amounts of nitrogen can cause dangerously low oxygen levels for our fish and marine life, and create an increased accumulation of algae, which can be devastating to our marine ecosystem. Nitrogen pollution also contributes to poor water clarity and loss of native aquatic vegetation. This means ecological losses for our shorelines and financial losses for our residents and businesses.

Nitrogen contamination is also a problem for our water suppliers, who are responsible for removing a legacy of contamination that has slowly made its way into our aquifers before the water reaches our home faucets. When consumed in excessive amounts, nitrogen can have a detrimental impact on one’s health and can be linked to an increased risk of various cancers, diabetes and more. Data from the Nassau County Department of Health and many of the town’s water suppliers shows that nitrogen contamination in the Magothy Aquifer, our most-used source of drinking water, is widespread. More troublingly, over the past 10 years, more than 60 percent of our online public supply wells have suffered from increased nitrogen contamination.

We must reduce the nitrogen that we are putting into the environment now to reduce the costs that our public agencies will be paying to clean up this contamination in the foreseeable future.

As a town, we are working toward this goal on numerous fronts. In April, I joined Senator Chuck Schumer for a press conference in which we called on the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture to allocate federal funds for a “nitrogen reduction strategy” for the Long Island Sound, and we are working with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Long Island Regional Planning Council as they craft the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan.

Recently, the town was awarded a $450,000 water infrastructure grant from New York State, which will allow us to replace the aging septic system at North Hempstead Beach Park with a sewer system. While attending the Memorial Day fireworks celebration at North Hempstead Beach Park last year, I became painfully aware of the fact that we were still using a septic tank system. Frankly, I was surprised, to say the least, that our park, so close to Hempstead Harbor, was not connected to sewers. I knew that we had to address this as soon as possible, and we were up to that challenge. The grant will help us to jump-start this project. Minimizing the nitrogen content in our harbor and waterways is critical.

Much progress has been made in recent years to repair environmental damage to our Long Island Sound thanks to the work of our partners on the state and federal level and our wonderful local environmental groups, but there is still far more to do for public and private property owners alike.

As a homeowner in North Hempstead, you can play a key role in helping us in this effort. Please remember to check your septic system regularly and consider working with a professional to upgrade your system to an environmentally preferable system. Think about using eco-friendly fertilizers that help in keeping lawns looking good while minimizing the impact on the environment and our water supply. When you head to your local nursery, look for fertilizer bags that say “slow-release nitrogen,” and avoid water-soluble nitrogen fertilizers. This will give your lawns the nutrients they need while decreasing the chances of nitrogen runoff into our waterways. Also, remember that sometimes more can be less, as over-fertilizing does more harm than good.

The key to protecting our planet is making it a team effort. If we all work together with the same goals in mind then we can accomplish so much more. We can all pitch in to make North Hempstead’s “Our Green Home; Our Green Community” more than a slogan, but a reality.

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