The Orient Association is raising money to fund an independent study of local water quality and quantity.
Citing the degradation of ground and surface waters over the past decades, the group intends to develop a “comprehensive plan for remediating and protecting the hamlet’s ground and surface waters,” according to its website. The organization, which said in an email that it had raised $10,000 as of Jan. 11, estimates that the study will cost upwards of $50,000.
“What we would like to do is write a water management plan for Orient over the next few months. The plan will do three things,” said Daniel Watts, a member of the Orient Association Water Committee, at the organization’s annual meeting last Tuesday.
The plan will first “assess the current situation with freshwater quantity and freshwater quality and surface water health,” then “prioritize projects needed to protect Orient’s aquifer and our bays,” and finally, “identify funding and the responsible party for each one of those projects, whether that party is Southold Town or the county or the state or a federal agency,” he said.
The committee hopes to raise money to hire outside experts to make sure the plan is grounded in science.
“Orient, for all intents and purposes, is an island, and just about everything that we consume here comes across the causeway. Just about all our food, the fuel we use to drive and heat our houses, all the utilities, the electricity, the phones, the internet, come from some other part of the world across one road. The only thing that we consume a lot of that doesn’t come from the rest of the world is water,” said Chris Wedge, another member of the Orient Association’s water committee.
He said the committee wants to know how much water there is in Orient and how it’s impacted by community use. He emphasized concerns about water quality and surface water.
“We are absolutely, measurably, influencing the qualities of the bay,” he said. “Nitrates get in there. There’s too much nutrients in there, bacteria start eating it, we get red tides, brown tides, algae blooms, they suck oxygen out of the water and we start losing shellfish, scallops are depleted.”
Mr. Watts said the committee has already started to speak with experts from the Nature Conservancy, Stony Brook University, Cornell and the U.S. Geological Survey.
“We think the time is right to have a solid plan for water in Orient. Suffolk County has been very focused on water quality, and has made funds available for water improvement projects,” he said. “And in addition, we believe that federal infrastructure funds will be available for water projects of this kind over the next year or two. And we believe that if Orient has a plan, and several well grounded shovel-ready projects, we should be able to secure outside funds for our water protection.”
He asked members of the association at the meeting to support the project via input, sharing relevant experiences and donations.
“I think this is really, really important,” Mr. Watts said, pointing to a federal declaration of Peconic Bay as a fishery disaster over the summer. “To me, looking back over my lifetime of experience in Orient, it feels to me like this is the end of a very, very long period of decline in the quality of our water. And I worry that it’s close to collapse.”
He said the association has reached out to a number of consulting firms so far and is hoping to receive responses in coming weeks. The group hopes the project will fall in the $50,000 range but is not sure “whether that’s reasonable or realistic at all.”
Association members said a few ways to take immediate action to preserve water quality include not irrigating lawns, covering pools to minimize evaporation and addressing septic systems. Suffolk County offers grants to improve septic systems.