SOUTHAMPTON - Nitrogen is seeping into Long Island's waterways by way of septic tanks and cesspools, and it's bad news for fish and the fishermen who rely on them to make a living.

When too much nitrogen gets into bays and streams, it feeds an explosion of algae that suck oxygen from the water. That triggers brown and red tides, which kill shellfish and drive other types of fish from the area.

At Stony Brook University's School of Marine Scienes, Dr. Chris Gobler has been studying the effects of nitrogen on marine life and how it gets into the bays. Some of the nitrogen comes from fertilizers and public sewage treatment plants, but Gobler says 70 percent is from private cesspools and septic tanks.

It's not just waterfront homes that are sending nitrogen into the seas. Experts say that even homes miles from the shore are passing pollution that makes its way into the bays, moving at a few feet per day.

State health limits on nitrogen are designed to protect drinking water, but they're not strict enough to protect Long Island's streams and bays. Environmentalists are calling for big changes.

Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister says a big part of the solution could be high-tech home septic systems that strip away excess nitrogen. Many environmentalists are calling for regulations that require the systems to be a part of new construction projects.

For many Long Islanders who make their living from the fish and shellfish in the bays, the changes cannot come soon enough.

Contact the decision-makers: 

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

New York State Department of Health

Nassau County Health Department

Suffolk County Health Department

State Sen. Mark Grisanti
Chairman, Senate Environmental Conservation Committee

Assemblyman Robert Sweeney
Chairman, Committee on Environmental Conservation

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

Numbers and Links:

Peconic Baykeeper

Save the Great South Bay

Friends of the Bay

Long Island Clean Water Partnership

Group for the East End