Clean, safe water is essential to our health and the quality of our lives.
What’s in our water and what can we do about it?
Clean, safe water is essential to our health and the quality of our lives. Orient is in a unique situation when it comes to water. It is almost completely isolated from the rest of Long Island. We have a special responsibility to ourselves, our children, our neighbors, and to the land, to make the best decisions about how water comes into our homes, businesses and fields and how it goes out again.
These decisions and their consequences are too important to be made in a hurry and under pressure, or worse, without any input from Orient residents.
We must become very knowledgeable about water. The Orient Association is committed to helping us do that through educational forums, this website, and participation in public discussions.
We encourage everyone to get their water tested if you have not already done so. And we invite you to send us your test results so that we can create maps that show exactly where there are quality issues in Orient. We need to add to the data the County has been collecting in its sampling program.
What can you do to help?
Wastewater is a key element in the quality of the water we drink and use. Orient Association is sponsoring a wastewater survey, which is being conducted by Peconic Green Growth (PGG.) PGG has received several important grants to conduct this study, including most recently one from Suffolk County sponsored by Legislator Al Krupski and County Executive Steve Bellone.
Take the wastewater survey (if you have not already done so) and encourage your neighbors to do the same. Knowledge is power. The more we know, the more we can help shape Orient’s destiny.
What exactly is in Orient’s drinking water?
The most important question we should ask ourselves is: What is in my own water? If you don’t know, you might want to have your water tested. Your neighbor could have very high quality water while your house across the street does not. In most cases, If there are contaminants, simple charcoal filters can remove many of them.
You’ve probably heard a lot about nitrates. These are natural compounds essential for plant growth. But excess nitrates can harm marine life and even affect human health.
There are significant indications that nitrate levels have been rising on the East End. Nitrates are more difficult to remove that other contaminants. It’s important to know how they get into our water because that’s the key to managing nitrate levels.
Nitrates are present in urine. Current research suggests that the main source of nitrates in our drinking water is from wastewater flowing out of our cesspools and septic systems. We are a major source of the problem – and the more of us there are on a given area of land, the bigger the problem.
Some of the nitrates in our groundwater come from fertilizers farmers and homeowners have put on their crops and lawns over the centuries. The residue from these applications sinks into the ground and eventually the groundwater.
But just how bad are nitrates for humans? It’s important to put this in perspective. Read what the Suffolk County Water Authority says in their annual report, every year:
“Water quality standards are established based upon the known health risks of the contaminant involved. One such contaminant, an inorganic chemical known as nitrate, may be of interest to you. The maximum contaminant level (MCL) for this substance is 10 ppm (parts per million.) This means that 10 ppm is the highest level of nitrate allowed in drinking water. However, cured luncheon meats or hot dogs may contain up to 500 ppm of nitrates and vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, beets and carrots also have significant nitrate concentrations. Drinking water normally contributes only a very small percentage of a person’s total nitrate intake.
“Nitrates in drinking water at levels above 10 ppm can be a health risk for infants less than six months of age. High nitrate levels in drinking water can cause blue-baby syndrome … However, it should be noted that there has never been a recorded case of blue-baby syndrome in Suffolk County.”
Another important way to keep this in perspective is to know that the vast majority of private wells in Suffolk County — including Orient — do not contain nitrates even close to the maximum level.
Here’s the Suffolk County Department of Health report on Orient:
“A review of SCDOH private well testing data for Orient shows 627 water samples collected and analyzed from 1997 through 2009. The data indicate that 99 samples, or 15.7% exceed the nitrate MCL of 10 mg.” (Note: an MCL of 10 mg is the same as 10 ppm measure used by SCWA.)
What does this tell us? The good news is that 84% of those samples had nitrate levels that are within the accepted level. The bad news is that some households and businesses have water that does not meet the minimum health standards without further treatment. And as usage grows, this is likely to get worse, unless we take action.
What about other contaminants?
SCDOH’s report on the quality of Orient water goes on to say that small, but measurable amounts of other contaminants such as aldicarb (Temik), a gasoline additive MTBE and degraded herbicide compounds “appeared in”, “were found in” or were “detected in” samples of Orient water. Importantly, these can be usually removed from household water with a simple and inexpensive charcoal filter.
We have a choice.
There are many indications that the relative safety and quality of water all across Long Island may not continue. Nitrate levels have been rising and expanded use of water will further strain existing systems. How should Orient’s future needs for clean, safe water be met? Should we link our future to the aquifers under the main body of Long Island or limit our sources to own own aquifer, which may not be perfect, but can be more easily protected and restored.
We have a choice. We can let others decide how we should receive our water and manage our waste. Or we can educate ourselves and be a part of those decisions.
How do I get my water tested?
Go to Suffolk County Private Well Water Testing Program and follow the instructions. They charge $100 – or less if you can show limited means. They probably take a
Alternatively, you can ask a private company to conduct a test for you. Results will be faster – but the fee is more likely to be in the $400 range. One such company is GNS Mermaid in Mattituck.
What kind of filter might I need?
Both Suffolk County Private Well Water Testing Program and private companies such as GNS Mermaid can advise you on this. The vast majority of impurities can be easily removed with a charcoal filter installed to filter all the water that enters your house.
Unfortunately, charcoal filters don’t remove nitrates, which is one of the reasons why this particular compound gets so much attention. The most common way of removing nitrates is a Reverse Osmosis System. (Imagine a membrane through which water molecules can pass but nothing else, or a screen that is even more efficient than charcoal.) R-O systems, as they are called, are more expensive than charcoal ones and many people buy one that filters the water at a single faucet (e.g. in the kitchen.) Whole-house ones are available too.
We’ll be putting up more information and links to filters and new advances in the near future.
Why are we hearing so much about wastewater systems?
Because wastewater directly affects the quality of our drinking water. Wastewater is a significant source of excess nitrates in our aquifer (the source of our drinking water) and in our bays. It can also be the source of other contaminants, such as coliform bacteria. Our current approaches to wastewater disposal are not always adequate, and this is likely to become more problematic in the very near future. If you’ve been reading the Suffolk Times and other sources of news, you’ve probably started to hear about “alternative wastewater systems” and the need to start thinking beyond cesspools and septic tanks.
Nitrates and shellfish
Shellfish and other marine life are ten or twenty times more sensitive to excess nitrates than we are. Nitrates are a major factor in algae blooms and other imbalances that harm shellfish and other marine life. No wonder our bays are in crisis.
If we want to restore the health of Peconic Bay and the Long Island Sound, we must do something about excess nitrates that flow through our wastewater systems and eventually leach into the ground, and out towards wetlands and bays. This is especially critical for properties close to these waters. The concentration of nitrates decreases over time and as it passes through wetlands, but even at the current levels, this natural process is not enough to protect marine life. As water and wastewater uses increase, this situation will get worse.
Change begins with knowledge
Peconic Green Growth is a non-profit organization founded and led by Glynis Berry who lives right here in Orient. Glynis has developed enormous knowledge and expertise in the study of water resources, watersheds, wastewater systems and the impacts both on our wells and our bays. She has been deeply involved studying these issues with the Town of Southampton and now Riverhead. PGG has been awarded several grants to study and map the situation on the North Fork and Peconic Estuary, most recently one for $90,000 from Suffolk County. Thanks go to Al Krupski and County Executive Steve Bellone for that. The Orient Association is collaborating with PGG and Glynis in these studies, and is a sponsor of PGG’s wastewater study, designed to understand present uses and plan for future alternatives.
5 minutes of your time can help save the bays and aquifers of Orient and the East End
Most of us know how our bays and all that lives within them have been struggling. What you may not know is that the ability to turn this around is within reach. This is the perfect moment to start making an enormous difference in the health of our bays, our aquifers — and our own well water.
Identifying and selecting the right approach to handling wastewater for each homeowner, business and farm is critical to our community. Cost, practicality and effectiveness, both short and long term, all must be considered.
The exciting news is that there are new, advanced and natural technologies being developed for wastewater treatment. These have the potential to work wonders for both individual and groups of homes or businesses. They can reduce by up to 75% the biggest threat to our bays — excess nitrates, phosphates and pollutants from our own septic systems and cesspools, especially those close to the bays. And that’s even better for the East End’s aquifers and wells.
The other good news is that costs are falling, communities that care are banding together to explore what can be done, and funding opportunities are increasingly available.
The first step is to gather information and that is what this survey is designed to do. Peconic Green Growth (PGG) is conducting a survey to understand how wastewater is currently being managed and how it can be managed in the future. After results are in, PGG and other local associations will hold public meetings to share information, discuss concerns, identify opportunities, and discuss next steps
TAKE THE WASTEWATER SURVEY!
It’s exploratory, private and commits you to nothing.
PO Box 282, Orient, NY 11957
The mission of the Orient Association is to uphold and sustain the interests of residents, businesses, and organizations of Orient, by educating the public on subjects useful to individuals and beneficial to the community. The Association provides forums to discuss, consider, and become informed about issues which concern the stakeholders of Orient. The Association is an exempt, not-for-profit educational organization under New York State and federal laws.