C.C.O.M. Will Partner With Feds on Water Data

Working with Concerned Citizens of Montauk, the United States Geological Survey will use advanced scientific analysis, known as microbial-source tracking, to establish a baseline of pollutants in Lake Montauk. Durell Godfrey

Concerned Citizens of Montauk will announce its partnership with the United States Geological Survey as well as a joint initiative intended to restore the water quality of Lake Montauk, where high bacteria counts have made some of it unsafe for swimming and shellfishing.

In collaboration with the Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force, C.C.O.M. has measured high levels of enterococcus, indicative of fecal waste, in Lake Montauk during the last four years. Elevated nitrogen levels from aging and failing septic systems also have promoted harmful algal blooms.

The U.S.G.S. will use advanced scientific analysis, known as microbial- source tracking, to establish a baseline of pollutants. The goal is to help achieve measurable improvements in Montauk’s ground and surface water, Laura Tooman, the C.C.O.M. president, said.

The project is expected to cost approximately $75,000 and will be funded by C.C.O.M.’s donors as well as a $13,000 contribution from the Town of East Hampton. 

“I was assessing what we do as an organization, what programs we’re trying to implement, and how to reduce pollution loads,” Ms. Tooman, who joined C.C.O.M. in May after being on the staff of State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. for six years, said on Monday. “With all the work the town and county are doing to do septic upgrades, we know there’s a problem, but we don’t have a lot of data to prove that there’s a problem, nor a system in place to monitor potential improvements. We’re doing all this work to reduce nitrogen, here and at the town and county levels, but we don’t have a good handle on the nitrogen and pathogen problems in Lake Montauk.”

Stormwater runoff and groundwater seepage are seen as pathways of contamination. According to the U.S.G.S, she said, “It is suspected that pathogens may come from shallow groundwater discharge, as much of Montauk still relies on onsite wastewater disposal systems, such as cesspools and septic systems. A clear understanding of the relative magnitude and geographic origin of sources, such as submarine groundwater discharge and stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, of pathogen loading and the host organisms from which they originate,” whether human, mammal, or bird, “is needed to help shape regulatory efforts aimed to improve water quality in the lake.”

The study is intended to identify the sources of bacterial contamination, characterize nitrogen sources and transport mechanisms, and estimate pathogen loads in summer and winter during both wet and dry conditions and during periods of concentrated bird activity. 

Data collection is to begin in the next month, Ms. Tooman said, and continue next year, with a final report expected by September 2019. The report, she said, will provide data that will point toward specific recommendations. 

Lake Montauk is one of six project areas the U.S.G.S. is to study across Long Island, and will contribute the easternmost data. Sag Harbor, Patchogue Bay, Port Jefferson Harbor, South Oyster Bay, and Hempstead Harbor will also be studied. “It’s a regional project that we’re allowing ourselves to jump on and take advantage of,” Ms. Tooman said. “We need it, the town needs it, and regionally, we all need a better indication of our pathogen loadings and how it’s getting in.”

Russell Drumm