Could dog owners cleaning up after their pets help ease the pollution in West Creek in New Suffolk? Town Trustee John Bredemeyer thinks so.
But geese are culprits, too, and it’s not so easy to curb a flock and follow along with a baggy.
West Creek has long been a popular clamming and crabbing spot, but last fall, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ordered the seemingly pristine waterway closed to shellfishing during the warm months due to high levels of bacteria in the water.
The DEC order, which took effect Sept. 30 last year, bans shellfishing in the creek between May 1 and Nov. 30.
Now Trustee Bredemeyer, an expert in water quality issues who works for the Suffolk County Department of Health, has prepared a report on what can be done to improve the health of the creek.
“It’s a dog problem and it’s a drainage problem,” Mr. Bredemeyer said at a Southold Town Board work session Tuesday morning.
His analysis showed that road runoff into the creek at a sharp bend at the west end of Jackson Avenue, combined with runoff from Grathwohl Avenue, which runs along the east side of the creek, have contributed to the pollution. Residents regularly walk their dogs on both roads.
Mr. Bredemeyer said that droppings left by huge flocks of geese also contribute to the high coliform count.
“As soon as you get a couple hundred geese in there, it’s a problem,” he said.
In his report, Mr. Bredemeyer urged the town to discourage people from feeding wild animals near the creek in order to stop enticing birds to land there. He also suggested a ban on cleaning and gutting fish along the creek, which also attracts birds.
Mr. Bredemeyer said that one gram of animal waste can have over 1 million coliform bacteria in it. Health regulations set 14 bacteria organisms per 100 ml of water as the maximum safe amount for shellfishing.
“With the leavings of one or two animals on Grathwohl Road, you can instantly contaminate acres of water,” he said. “People cleaning up after their dogs would be an immediate, important first step. It truly does vindicate a pooper scooper law.”
Southold Town instituted its first pooper scooper law last August, and dog walkers who are caught violating that law face a $250 fine.
Town Board member Chris Talbot suggested that the town consider buying dispensers for plastic bags that dog walkers could use to dispose of their pets feces along the roadways surrounding the creek.
The town’s GIS coordinator and Land Preservation Committee chairman John Sepenoski cautioned at the work session that the town has 15 other water bodies that are in worse shape than West Creek, and that the town would not receive credit under a new federal stormwater reduction mandate, known as MS4, for work done at West Creek.
“It would be great if we can bring West Creek back from the brink, but I don’t want to ignore everything else,” Mr. Sepenoski said.
Mr. Bredemeyer cautioned that, due to staff reductions at the DEC, water bodies that are permanently closed to shellfishing are tested less frequently than areas that are still open. With West Creek just recently closed for the summer season, he and the other trustees hope there is still time to reverse the direction in which the health of its water is heading.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell suggested that the town partner with community groups in New Suffolk to raise awareness of what they can do to help restore the health of the creek.
“New Suffolk is a pretty active community,” agreed Councilman Al Krupski. “You’re not talking about a large area where everyone is disconnected.”