There was a time that there were scallops in Zacks Bay. There were also mussels, soft and hard shell clams too, all within my lifetime. Bays all over Long Island had significant stands of eel grass that swarmed with grass shrimp and sea horses (How often
do you see them now?) In my lifetime I have watched this severe environmental decline, much of it caused by greed and ignorance. The saddest part of it is that it continues to this day.
One week ago I looked out my front window and watched a contractor pour refuse down the street drain and into the bay. I opened the door and called him out on it. He flipped me the bird and I must admit I flipped it back and then called 911. I didn’t call the Hempstead DEC because, in the past, their reaction time I find to be a bit slow. The police showed up in a squad car. It quickly drove up and down my dead end street, right past all the contractor’s trucks and didn’t even stop. I didn’t even have time to get out my front door. As I went out the guy just smirked at me and said: “You see buddy - nobody gives a crap!”
But there is a bigger issue here. Long-standing governmental neglect makes this contractors offense infinitesimal in the scope of fighting to bring back our bays which are the breeding grounds of our oceans. Without healthy bays, there can never be a healthy ocean adjacent to the populated areas of Long Island, NYC, Connecticut and Jersey. Developers, arm in arm with their friends in our local governments, never planned for protecting our waters. I’m not saying it was a deliberate plot. They just didn’t think it all out. Do you need water off the paved streets? Easy! Drain it into the bay! After all, water is water, right? WRONG!
Have you ever thought about what happens to the rainwater that puddles in the streets and down the street? It’s not a big item in the thought process of most folks. I get it. They’re busy with the kids or helping out with their older family members, so I’ll supply the answer. It literally flows right into the bay. Dog crap, oil and gas on the streets, discarded food, cigarette butts by the billions, paper, garbage and lunch bags, take-out containers and even drug paraphernalia makes it way down street gutters, into the drains and out into our streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and it eventually runs into the bays and the ocean beyond. You might say that our waters suffer from a virtual “Shit Storm” every time it rains.
So how does the government deal with this aberration? In some jurisdictions they place a colorful designed 2” diameter disk in the cement near the street drain warning that anything that goes in the drain ends up in the bay. Now, I may be stupid, but I never realized that filthy street water had the time or aptitude to read and react in a positive way and even if water could read - there just isn’t a damn thing it can do to stop a dog feces from ending up in our waters as a putrid mess and in most cases that’s exactly what happens. It makes a saucy cocktail where we swim and fish (When there were fish!)
And how did this all happen? Well, it goes back a long way.
As they say “The sins of the father are visited upon sons and daughters.” Before adjacent counties to the bays and rivers were over paved, over developed and under planned, there were open fields, farms, woodlands, and dirt roads. All of this open land could absorb rainwater, purifying it as it soaked and filtered through different levels of sand. Then most of it seeped into streams and rivers into the bays and outward to the sea. Some people had farm animals and pets, but again, there wasn’t great enough amounts of pollutants that the natural system could not process, except for one major early indicator on Long Island, The duck farms of Yaphank, Patchogue, Peconic and the Moriches area that flowed so much duck guano into the bays that by the 1970s the government had to pass stringent laws to protect and bring back the bays that had been severely compromised by the pollution. It should have heralded a new age of securing ways to protect our waters from runoff pollution, but unfortunately it did not. For over a century those duck farms had polluted the bays but as the island and other coastal areas developed it was the rainwater runoff problem that compounded the problem a hundred times over.
After WWII, people flooded out of the cities onto the open farmlands. Virtually every plot of land was built on and paved. The natural water cleansing system of the environment lost out to the brand new environment of roads, super highways and structures built on the land. With rainwater losing so much land which formerly absorbed it, it became a “by product” that needed to be “Handled”. The bright, cheap solution was to follow what every coastal developed area has done since Noah. Pipe it into natural bodies of water and down to the sea with storm drains. Voila! “Out of sight and smell - Out of mind!” and a lot less money out of pocket for the developers. Politicians heralded the houses, roads, malls, parking lots and giant factories as “Progress”! It was jobs, schools and houses for all! Open green space be damned! Utopia had arrived (For most but not all!) As affluence gained so did the number of dogs, cats, cars, throw away garbage bags, fertilizers, and even some mob hits, ended up in the storm drains and out into the bays. Later came the new plastics, cigarette filters, plastic plates, knives, forks and fast food containers. It’s all washed down the streets, into the storm drains and out to sea.
So what is the solution? Well, unfortunately, there isn’t any one grand solution right now. It will take years of planning and billions to correct the past but there are things that can start to minimize the damage. To start with we can clean up after our dogs! So many dog owners just don’t get it. There are about 2.5 million dogs on Long Island alone. If you walk your dog once a day and leave it’s “Present” in the street that’s 365 loads per year. 25% of dog owners don’t clean up. That is almost a billion floating lumps in our water per year! No wonder so many beaches get closed after storms.
We can properly dispose of all our personal garbage and pick up other people's leavings when you see it on your block just to help save our waters. On the governmental side, we can start by building storm water filtration plants in the most populated areas to cut down on rainwater pollution. Sadly, we spend $740 billion a year on defense so I don’t see that happening soon so we’ll be on our own for a while. But by just cleaning up after ourselves and doing just a little extra we can make a huge difference. Let’s get to it!
C. 2020 by Mark C. (Sea) Nuccio
All rights reserved. Story and Illustration.
You can reach Mark – firstname.lastname@example.org