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Shinnecock Bay and Nitrogen Pollution

shinnecock2cropJustin Salas, a 7th grade student at the Stimson Middle School in the South Huntington School District, recently asked Dr. K a few questions about nitrogen pollution in Shinnecock Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: I would like to know about current levels of nitrogen in Shinnecock Bay. I know that the EPA set a target back in 1998 for 58.5 percent reduction of nitrogen in Long Island Sound by 2014. Have they met the target? I would like to know if the same target applies to Shinnecock Bay. Where can I find the latest data or report on current nitrogen levels, sources of nitrogen, eutrophication, or hypoxia in Shinnecock Bay?

 Dr. K:

Thanks for sending in your question about Shinnecock Bay. Since Shinnecock Bay is on the South Shore of Long Island, and therefore exchanges with the Atlantic Ocean rather than Long Island Sound on the North Shore, it’s not really part of the Long Island Sound Study, and wouldn’t really be impacted by the EPA nitrogen reduction plan that you mention. However, in general, the treatment facilities which discharge into Long Island Sound are doing a very good job of meeting their 2014 nitrogen reduction goals.There are a few plants which have received extensions on their load targets until 2017, but most plants have already upgraded, and plants which are running the new advanced wastewater treatment systems, are doing a great job of meeting, and in many cases exceeding their targets.Those load targets are driven by a process called TMDL, or total maximum daily load. Several of the water bodies which discharge into Shinnecock Bay have TMDL’s in place for bacteria, to improve shellfishing (you can learn more about this at  (ftp://ftp.dec.state.ny.us/dow/tmdl/shellfishtmdl.pdf), but not for nitrogen at this point.The water quality issues in Shinnecock bay are drawing a lot of attention though, and there are monitoring and restoration programs designed towards understanding the local drivers of hypoxia and eutrophication and combatting them. One key initiative is the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program. I would urge you to check out their website. There has also been some recent research in Shinnecock Bay done by Dr. Chris Gobler and colleagues at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, which includes some investigation of nutrient loads.

Your question brings up a very important point, which is that sometimes management actions or targets which are designed for a larger system (e.g. Long Island Sound) are not sufficient for smaller parts of that system (e.g. small embayments, harbors, etc.), and many of these smaller systems are in areas where we depend on the ocean as a source of food, recreation, and employment, so we need to do a better job of monitoring our smaller embayments to understand how changes to the larger system are impacting them, and whether we need additional localized management actions to help them meet their targets. The Long Island Sound Study has recently funded a sizeable effort to improve our embayment monitoring protocols, led by Dr. Jamie Vaudrey at UCONN. She and her colleagues are still working on this project, but have already learned a great deal and we are starting to see some of the recommendations from this project gathering funding and support for implementation through programs like CT and NY Sea Grant and the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, so this is a very active and important topic, and I am very excited to see what the future holds.

I really thought this was a great question, since it’s something we spend a lot of time and effort thinking about. Please feel free to send in any other questions you have, or any follow up questions as well!

Jason Krumholz, aka Dr., K, is the NOAA liaison to EPA’s Long Island Sound Office. Dr. Krumholz received his doctorate in oceanography at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.

 

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Send an e-mail to Jason Krumholz.. Dr. Krumholz  is a marine scientist working as the NOAA liaison to the EPA Long Island Sound Office. View more of Dr. K’s questions and answers on the Ask Dr. K blog.

 

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA or NOAA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA or NOAA do not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

 

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