07/11/15 8:00pm

In reference to the proposed developments in Mattituck — both the Pawlowski and Reeves parcels — what is missing in the discussion is a public benefit that incorporates enhanced wastewater treatment. With small lots crowding creek shores, Mattituck is a priority area for wastewater treatment.

The proposed green space of the Pawlowski lot would better serve the community by treating the effluent of both the proposed development and nearby existing neighborhoods to a higher level, possibly using the treated water for subsurface irrigation. The environment would have a net benefit. The land could still have the appearance of open space through the use of natural and subsurface treatment systems, but the benefit would be real.

Glynis Berry of Orient

04/13/14 6:00am

A sandbar at the end of Pine Neck Road in Southold. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

A sandbar at the end of Pine Neck Road in Southold. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

I must admit I was surprised at Bill Toedter’s response to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s commitment to address the damage to the quality of our waters that excess nutrient loading is causing. It is a complex issue and we should be glad to have a politician brave enough to take action.  (more…)

02/24/13 8:00am

In response to John Betsch’s Feb. 14 guest spot “No need to fight over conservation,” I agree strongly that we should not have pointless divisions and am dismayed that he feels that property rights are being attacked.

The water quality of our aquifers, bays and Sound are not a partisan issue, nor should the community be divided into “camps.” We all need to better understand the conditions that cause the most harm. Then, as individuals and as a community, we need to target solutions appropriate for each particular situation.

Healthy waters safeguard property values, as well as protect the marine and tourist industries that define our local economy and treasured character.

Why do we care about water quality? Our waters are degrading. In addition to pathogens and other contaminants, excess nutrient loading, especially forms of nitrogen, is a significant concern.

The North Fork has the highest levels of excess nitrates in groundwater in Suffolk County. In some areas, over 15 percent of our wells fail to meet safe drinking water standards. It is projected that, with the scope of development allowed by current zoning, these nitrate levels will consistently exceed safe drinking water standards over much of the area.

Nitrogen from the atmosphere accounts for roughly half of the nitrates in our environment. Of the rest, individual human wastewater systems contribute 40 percent of the nitrates directly to groundwater. These contaminants quickly travel to the bays and the Sound, dramatically affecting marine life. The South Shore lost 98 percent of its shellfish industry due to excess nutrient loading. Do we want the same thing to happen here?

What are the wastewater conditions that contribute to poor water quality?

The majority of individual wastewater treatment systems installed before 1973 are most likely cesspools. These open-walled pits allow pathogens and dissolved solids to migrate to the soil and groundwater.

Even with septic systems built to current code, if the depth to groundwater is less than three feet, the wastewater does not have enough time to break down naturally and for filtering to occur.

Temporary wastewater system failure due to flooding can have a significant impact on water quality. Because they are not waterproof, cesspools in flood and surge zones contribute significantly to the resultant pollutions.

Current recommendations call for one acre as the minimum lot size necessary to dilute the concentrated wastewater that comes out of septic systems before it reaches our wells. This means that existing developments on small lots are contributing nitrates to groundwater at an excessive level. Our marine environment is significantly more sensitive and will suffer even at the recommended acreage standards.

The factors that put our drinking and open waters at risk tend to overlap. Because of this, selective improvements can dramatically improve water quality. Peconic Green Growth is currently mapping environmental and land use conditions that impact wastewater quality, as well as groundwater travel patterns. As a result, we will soon be able to identify neighborhoods that can most benefit from improvements. Improvements in these areas will help safeguard our health, our waterways and our property values.

We encourage all homeowners in the five eastern towns to be involved. First, please take the wastewater survey, accessible on the home page of peconicgreengrowth.org. Based on the responses so far, most people think that wastewater is an area of community concern appropriate for public subsidy. Peconic Green Growth has already received grants to help communities develop pilot projects to improve wastewater handling.

While the solutions to issues will vary, if we approach our water problems collectively, we are more likely to find cost-effective, efficient and effective solutions that protect our precious waters. Let’s not attack each other, let’s work together.

Glynis Berry is an architect and executive director of Peconic Green Growth. She lives in Orient.

02/16/11 9:23am

As a community, we are rightly beginning to grapple with the issues that degrade the water quality of both the aquifers and the bays. While the town can address some problems such as runoff or dog poop through projects and regulations, we also need to address water quality issues comprehensively in the town’s master plan.
One of the key issues is how we handle human waste.

Sewage pollutants seeping into our groundwater wind up in our drinking water and drift into our treasured estuaries. These water bodies are the sources of food, recreation and aesthetics that feed our economy and support our lifestyle. Except for Greenport, Southold Town relies solely on individual septic systems for wastewater treatment. The traditional septic systems we use dispense nitrates at levels that exceed the drinkable level of 10 mg/liter by four times.

Suffolk County relies on lot size to let natural processes dilute the level of nitrates to an acceptable average. The Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan (SCCWRMP) estimates that at a density of four dwelling units per acre, nitrate levels hover near the drinkable limit. The county Department of Health therefore requires a minimum lot size of a half-acre, with recommendations to increase it to one acre, in order to avoid overloading the capacity of the land to adequately purify our waste.

One-acre zoning is a suburban concept. In Southold, lots historically have been sized at a sixth to a third of an acre in our hamlets and along the bay coastlines. In fact, 37 percent of Southold lots are less than a half-acre in size and 13 percent are less than a quarter-acre. Current planning guidelines recommend a minimum of seven dwelling units per acre. So concentrating density in our hamlets is in keeping with both our heritage and the latest planning concepts. The draft economic chapter of Southold’s master plan puts forward ideas in support of hamlet development. One idea, however, should be dropped: the transfer of sanitary credits.

A sanitary credit is a development right. It permits building to higher density in one location, because land is preserved elsewhere. But this begs the issue. Hamlet densities are already at levels that endanger our water supply. Most of our compact development lies adjacent to harbors, where any waste from these communities will negatively impact the bays. We cannot attain the desired densities at the expense of degraded water quality; rather we need to solve the issue of sewage. Clean water should be a nonnegotiable item.

It is possible for municipalities to impose more restrictive measures than SCDOH requirements. For instance, East Hampton has overlay districts regulating stormwater runoff and septic design. In order to protect a fragile environment similar to the East End’s, the New Jersey pine barrens requires either a minimum lot size of 3.2 acres for traditional septic systems or specialized systems to further purify wastewater in areas of greater density. Our goal? To do no harm and restore damaged environments.

These are things Southold can do:
• Create parkland within the hamlet areas.
• Require individual septic systems that provide better treatment of wastewater.
• Create small community sewers, which can be designed to minimize infrastructure, waste and contaminants.
• Create a municipal sewer district and plant.
We need to live gently on the land by integrating human activities in a manner that preserves a healthy environment. We want future generations to enjoy the natural riches we have been blessed with.

Ms. Berry is an architect and planner who lives in Orient.