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Save the Sound: North Shore beaches are getting cleaner

Call for water infrastructure improvements


With the sun shining and a breeze blowing across the shoreline at Theodore Roosevelt Park in Oyster Bay, those who gathered for Save the Sound’s news conference on Aug. 2 couldn’t have asked for a better day to learn the results of the foundation’s Long Island Sound Beach Report. The weather was emblematic of the news, as Save the Sound’s representatives said that the quality of the water at North Shore beaches has generally increased, with only a few minor exceptions.

Save the Sound is a nonprofit organization based in New Haven, Conn., dedicated to preserving the Sound and all of the communities on its coastlines. Director Tracy Brown said that researchers had spent the last three years periodically filling small jars with water samples from 204 beaches across Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, New York City and Connecticut. The samples were tested for bacteria harmful to humans, and each beach was given grades for 2016, 2017 and 2018 based on their bacteria levels.

According to the study, nearly every one of the 17 beaches from Sea Cliff to Laurel Hollow received at least a B. Two of the three exceptions were Lattingtown Beach and Beekman Beach, which received a C+ and B–, respectively. Crescent Beach, in Glen Cove, which has been closed for roughly 10 years due to dangerous levels of bacteria, received a D.

“We love our waters,” Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joe Saladino said, “and we want to do everything to continue to protect them and bring the quality of our water to the finest that we can bring about.”

Brown said that 93 percent of all water samples taken over the last three summers passed state criteria for safe swimming. But water quality can vary from day to day, she added, explaining that Beekman Beach, just down the shoreline from the conference, would have been closed the day before the event due to heavy rain. As rain flows down toward the shore, it picks up litter and fecal matter, along with storm and waste water. When that runoff makes it to the Sound, the water becomes temporarily unsafe for humans.

With more rains coming as a result of climate change, Brown said, it is more important than ever to improve local water infrastructure. One beach can be significantly more polluted than the one next to it because of the difference in local infrastructure, as well as actions by residents as simple as disposing of litter and picking up after their dogs.

“It can inform an otherwise unaware public of the conditions in their communities, Brown said of Save the Sound’s study. “It can educate and motivate our legislators about the importance of the associated issues. And it can create a collective movement to focus on our efforts and our actions on pollution reduction, bringing about better beach improvement and better beach days for everybody.”

Dr. Greg O’Mullan, a professor at Queens College who worked with Save the Sound in compiling the report, said beach grades were awarded based on two main criteria — the percentage of unsafe water samples and the highest quantity of fecal bacteria in a sample. Samples were taken during prolonged dry weather and shortly after rainfall, and researchers found that there was a higher failure rate after rain than during dry weather. However, the maximum amount of fecal bacteria in a sample results was less consistent, which O’Mullan said reflects differing sources of pollution in different areas along the Sound.

As a whole, the study found that the water quality in the western reaches of the Sound, which includes Nassau, improved in 2018, while different pollution problems plaguing the eastern waters have lowered the beach grades there. O’Mullan said the study results were preliminary, and that he hoped they would inspire people to better care for the local environment to protect the Sound.

“The tough work is still ahead of us,” he said. “We need to take action to improve the quality of beaches and to maintain the high quality of water at our beaches.”

U. S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove, said he was excited to see Nassau’s area of the Sound healthier than it has been in decades, although there is still more work to do. One of the key issues he cited was the fact that not all communities on Long Island have sewers, but instead rely on cesspools, which add greatly to runoff. He used Sea Cliff as an example, attributing a great deal of the success of its beaches to the village’s recent increase in sewer infrastructure.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the county had received a $1 million grant from the state to begin replacing the North Shore’s failing cesspools and septic systems. She said it was vital for Long Island’s beaches to remain destinations for residents and tourists alike, because they are a significant part of the area’s identity.

“We really are an island,” Curran said. “Boating, fishing, swimming, just hanging out by the water is part of our identity, and it’s part of our culture.”

Carol DiPaolo, the executive director of the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, said she was pleased to see so many dignitaries come out in support of studies of North Shore waters.

“We all have a part to play,” DiPaolo said, “and anything that is done in [the] Long Island Sound benefits Sea Cliff, Glen Cove, the Town of North Hempstead, all of Hempstead Harbor, and vice versa. Anything we can do to make conditions better in Hempstead Harbor tremendously benefits Long Island Sound.”

For more information on Save the Sound’s Long Island Sound Beach Report, go to www.soundhealthexplorer.org.