The Parrish Art Museum and the Nature Conservancy hosted “Accabonac Harbor: Marsh and Woodland Guided Walking Tour,” last Sunday morning. I met the sold-out crowd at Merrill Lake Sanctuary off of Springs-Fireplace Road.“How many times have you passed it,” Paul D’Andrea asked me, “Thousands”?
My connection to Accabonac Harbor and East Hampton goes back deep into my ancestry. I consider it a part of my heart and soul and know I am not alone. I feel such passion, it hurts at times.
It hurts when an old farmhouse is demolished and a McMansion with a pool and green lawn is constructed in its place; when a public view is taken away by invasive species, man or otherwise; and when the water quality gets so bad, part of the harbor is shut down to shellfishing.
Yes, Paul, I have admired the Merrill Sanctuary from afar. From inside the confines of my car, many times a day, and I have never, ever stopped to walk the path between the meadows, through the marshes to the hummocks of woodland trees, until now.
Maybe I was afraid of ticks, or just too lazy. I needed a push. So thank you for that, Mr. D’Andrea and Mariah Lindberg, our guides from the Nature Conservancy and Andrea Grover, from the Parrish Art Museum, who put together the walk and a talk, “Watershed: Artists, Writers, Scientists and Advocates on Our Waters,” which took place at the museum the previous day.
Septic issues dominated the walk and the talk. Nitrogen from outdated septic systems, which most homes in Suffolk County have, is a main culprit for poor water quality.
I’ve been writing about water quality on Long Island since 1995 and I am shocked by the slow progress in septic upgrades. The Department of Health, the gatekeepers of such issues, will approve only the antiquated cement ring system which allows nitrates to flow freely into our water table and water bodies.
There are newer technologies that prevent nitrogen from hitting the water table. Advanced systems, used successfully in other places throughout the world, bring nitrogen into the air where it is released as harmless gas or to the benefit of plants.
Those advanced systems are “not allowed in Suffolk County,” Executive Director of the Long Island Nature Conservancy Nancy Kelley said at the talk. “We have to change that.”
Human waste water, our own urine, as well as the fertilizers and pesticides we put on the land, go directly into our drinking water and bays. This excessive nitrogen allows a rainbow of harmful algae blooms to flourish, killing the eelgrass which provides shelter to young shellfish and finfish.
You couldn’t even let your pets wade in Georgica Pond this summer, never mind let children swim or fishermen fish, due to the overgrowth of toxic blue-green algae.
“The enjoyable, unhurried, unafraid, approach to living on the water, we all can agree, is worth fighting for,” said Ms. Kelley, who grew up on Accabonac in the 1950s.
“We deserve better than beach closures and fish die-offs.”
Talk to your government officials about putting pressure on the Suffolk County Department of Health. They need to get with the program and move away from archaic septic systems that have been around for hundreds of years and no longer serve our needs.
The department of health must accept denitrifying septic systems for new homes and septic upgrades. Once there is a stronger demand for new technology, the cost will go down.
In the meantime, there are other things we can do, like limit the use of bleach, which kills important microbes. Only flush toilet paper. No wipes, diapers, tissues, paper towels or medicines should be flushed. Use designated medical receptacles to dispose of old pills.
Spread out laundry, dishwashing and bathing. Do not use garbage disposals. Empty fats before cleaning pots and pans and dispose of coffee grounds in the compost or trash. All of the above accumulate in the system, accelerating the need for pumping.
Move away from chlorinated pools. Imagine the effects emptying a chlorinated pool has on the harbor?
Just dumping untreated waste into the ocean is not the way to go. Beyond treatment plants, we should think about reusing waste water.
“Waste water as a resource, not a waste product,” Glynis Berry, a LEED accredited architect, noted at the talk. Waste water can be used as irrigation for golf courses, toilet flushing at schools, fertilization and even drinking water.
“We need action now or we will see our marine environment become a barren cesspool,” said Ms. Berry, “We will have lost the essence to what brought us to this place.”
We can also put pressure on Suffolk County to stop Vector Control from spraying pesticides on our marshes. “We’re not big fans of that,” said Mr. D’Andrea, “Enough people request it. They’re still worried about West Nile. It’s their ace-in-the-hole,” he said, picking up a turkey feather in the field, then plucking seeds from a milkweed plant. “We all know the monarch butterflies are in trouble.”
If everyone set aside a little part of their yard and kept it ungroomed or planted native plant species, the benefits would be exponential.
“Pollinators and migrating birds depend on their existence,” Mr. D’Andrea said of the native plant species.
He urged the crowd to persuade East Hampton Town officials to purchase property currently for sale on Accabonac Harbor with Community Preservation Funds.
I couldn’t think of a better use for CPF funds than protecting the very heart and soul of Bonac.
Before heading off to the upper woodlands, Mr. D’Andrea picked a pickle weed, bit a tiny bit off and offered it around to taste. Salty, very salty.