Hoping to open the Cutchogue creek complex after a decade

John Bredemeyer, a Southold Town Trustee and chairman of the shellfish advisory committee, takes a water sample for DNA analysis from the Cutchogue creek complex last year. (Credit: Carrie Miller file)
John Bredemeyer, a Southold Town Trustee and chairman of the shellfish advisory committee, takes a water sample for DNA analysis from the Cutchogue creek complex last year. (Credit: Carrie Miller file)

It has now been 10 years since the Cutchogue creek complex was closed to shellfishing by the DEC due to water quality concerns. The long closure has become a source of frustration for Southold Town’s shellfish advisory committee, which recently conducted a series of water quality tests to track the source of contaminants entering the creek system. 

The study, which analyzed coliform enumeration and used DNA testing to track the source of the bacteria, aimed to help the town better understand the types of contaminants entering the waterways and what can be done to mitigate them.

But the study has also largely reaffirmed committee members’ belief that the creeks should possibly be reopened, though the sample size is too small to ensure that.

The data was presented to the Southold Town Board at a work session Tuesday, where committee members stressed the importance of lobbying the DEC to dedicate additional resources so the water can be retested and reversal of the closures can be considered.

“I think it’s fair to say that some of the expectations regarding existing concerns we had [about the closures] were met, though of course it’s a small statistical sample,” Town Trustee and committee chairman John Bredemeyer told the Town Board. “We’d definitely hope you’ll consider communicating to our state representatives to get more support for the DEC labs so these studies can continue in a more rational fashion.”

Committee members also suggested transferring responsibility for water testing to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, which ran the DNA analysis for the town’s study. Town Board member Jill Doherty, a former Trustee, said she believes just one researcher is currently assigned to the DEC lab that conducts water testing on Long Island, as that agency has turned its focus to public health efforts like testing shellfish in restaurants. Mr. Bredemeyer said Southold and East Hampton towns, which aimed to conduct a study similar to the shellfish advisory committee’s, have been effectively shut out as the DEC redeploys and reduces its resources.

Ms. Doherty said she’d support any effort to better involve Cornell and work toward opening the creeks.

“They’re willing to take this on,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We have to start looking at different solutions.”

The committee’s study included 36 samples from West Creek, Wickham Creek, East Creek, Mud Creek and New Suffolk, all taken at least two days after rainfall on five dates between June and October 2013. Only three of those samples had fecal coliform enumeration values that did not meet the standards used by the DEC in certifying shellfishing waters — though the study deviated from the standards requiring testing on random dates and gathering a minimum of 30 samples per station.

Human fecal coliform bacteria were detected at Mud Creek, West Creek and New Suffolk, which could be the result of failed septic systems but might also be caused by disposable diapers that make their way into the water, and other sources, said Cornell stormwater specialist Scott Wagemann. Human sources were the only type of bacteria detected on two occasions: at Mud Creek on June 17, 2013, and at New Suffolk on Aug. 15.

Other sources of bacteria found in the samples were birds, wildlife and domestic animals.

The shellfish advisory committee is looking to contract with Cornell Cooperative for a rain-driven study and will conduct eight more samplings, focused in West Creek and New Suffolk.

“Funding more than that would not be prudent at this time,” Mr. Bredemeyer said.

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