HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - An alarming amount of pollution in Long Island waterways has prompted officials to call for major changes.
As CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Wednesday, Suffolk County officials said nitrogen pollution is ruining bays and rivers and killing sea grasses and marshes, and making Long Island more vulnerable in storms.
Scientists said the reason is nitrogen from household sewage. County executive Steve Bellone said the top priority of his administration is to stop the pollution.
Suffolk County Exec Announces Plan To Install Sewers In Effort To Protect Water Supply
"The surface water effects are clear. We've had harmful algae blooms, red tide, brown tide, closed beaches, dead rivers like the Forge River. Every surface water body in our region is listed as an impaired water body," Bellone said. "We have 360,000 unsewered homes. We have more unsewered homes than the entire state of New Jersey."
Bellone has launched a plan to reverse the crisis, installing public sewers where there currently are none. The first phase of the plan is to install sewer systems under about 12,000 homes near the Forge River, the Connetquot River and the Carlls River – in Deer Park and North Babylon; Oakdale; and Mastic and Shirley.
Seventy-five percent of Suffolk County homes currently use septic tanks. Environmentalists said that is antiquated.
"In a civilized society -- in a dense community -- we treat our sewage before we dump it into the bay," said Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
Household waste seeping into the ground chokes oxygen out of the waterways. As a result, scientists said, 90 percent of the protective marshes that Long Island had in 1930 are now gone. Wildlife and fish have also been killed.
"The hard clam fisheries declined 99 percent in Great South Bay right here. So that's a huge decline," said Dr. Chris Gobler, a professor of marine sciences at Stony Brook University. "On the East End, the scallop fisheries declined 99 percent."
Homeowners who live on stagnant canals said the sewer initiative is a start in addressing the long-overlooked problem.
"Now, no turtles, no frogs, no trout, no shrimp -- nothing," said Cathy Cohen, president of the Idle Hour Civic Association. "We've seen it compound itself in the last, at least, 10 years, so that it's almost a dead waterway."
The cost of the sewer plan is $750 million. Suffolk County is seeking federal funds to assist.
Suffolk was selected by IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge for the water quality initiative.
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