A Conversation With Kevin McAllister
By Lindsay Andarakis
Kevin McAllister is the founder of DefendH20, a non-profit organization that defends the right to clean water and a sustainable coastline through science, education and legislation. At his upcoming talk in Sag Harbor, Mr. McAllister will talk about biological and physical consequences of climate change, specific to Long Island’s shoreline and surrounding environments. The purpose of the talk is to inform and educate people about what they can do to keep their homes sustainable, and how climate change on the East End requires a group effort to keep it at bay.
Are sewage and fertilizer run off the main problem with the quality of our water? Or is there something people are unaware of?
I believe between the sewage influence and runoff, you’ve got a myriad of chemicals. I think that is principally degrading water quality, but I will say this; with respect to the chronic algal blooms that we’re seeing in the ponds and coastal water bodies, I’m starting to think something else is at play. Maybe attributed to some subtle change with climate change; I don’t know if it’s the water temperature; I don’t have the kind of empirical data or evidence on this, but it’s just very peculiar how in the last probably five to 10 years virtually every water body I can think of, and local waters are exploding in these algal blooms with regularity.
What ways can individual homeowners or consumers help keep water clean and plentiful?
Just on their own properties, sustainable management practices. This goes to lawn care, how we handle storm water coming off of roofs and driveways, trying to divert that water and retain it on site, as opposed to down the road, into the storm drain, through the pipes and out into the creek or cove. We’ve clearly increased lawn fertilizers in the last several decades; you see those signs all the time that these lawns have been sprayed. The application of the pesticides and herbicides, that was unheard of 20 years ago, now we see with such regularity.
With respect to the retention on the property of storm water; everything from the selection of grasses, what type of ornamental vegetation is used, so it doesn’t require the life support of chemicals; when you start getting into non-native ornamentals…[a lot more maintenance, chemicals and water are required].
Water quality affects not only our ground water for our own drinking and use, but also the habitats of fish and other species, but it can also become dangerous to us, children and pets right?
There’s a toxic blue green algae that releases and aerosol so that can affect humans and pets. On the marine side there’s the rust tide, which can lead to the bio toxin. A couple of years back, there was hundred of Diamondback terrapins that were showing up on the shoreline around Flanders Bay. They were showing up dead by the hundreds. The rust tide then appeared, and my speculation was that the bivalves, (shellfish, mussels) were taking up the toxin and then in turn being eaten by the turtles, and that ended up being shown to be true after the state DEC did some lab work on the animals.
What is the most pressing issue facing our coastal environment right now, that will affect us the soonest?
The septic influence, it looms large, but that will take us years to really correct. There’s no quick fix there. I do think if we stem storm water runoff, particularly where pollutants are originating on properties; that could be addressed pretty quickly if people get on board. With respect to my talk, part of this equation on water quality is the integrity of natural shorelines. There’s been a real trend and I see it all over in the Peconic, Atlantic, ocean beaches and Long Island Sound in response to climate change and sea level rise. Despite being very minimal in the last several decades, the response has been coastal armoring. We’re seeing more and more bulkheads, stone revetments, different forms of shoreline hardening are creeping in and some of the projects are a mile and a half in length.
…Relative to my talk, I put forward the sea level rise projections that the state has adopted this past February (from 10 years of DEC formulation). If you look at the projections, by 2050 there will be a foot and a half to two and a half foot rise, by the 80’s, two and a half to above three feet, and turn of the century, forget it…it is projected at middle range three feet to a high of six feet.
How has development immediately affected our shoreline?
Another trend in the past couple of decades is that everybody has some form of lawn irrigation, and those sprinklers are going all the time…I’ve certainly been at the forefront of advanced treatment systems, but that’ll take us decades to institute on a broad scale. We’ve all got to tune into water quality and do our part. When you get into sewage management, that’s more government, so I think we’ve got to support funding and regulations that really lift us into a new age of sewage management. Because we’ve clearly reached the tipping point with respect to water quality, we really need to start having a serious public conversation about this and hopefully move our elected officials to start to act because there really has been inaction on the part of government at all levels.
Kevin McAllister, Living On the Edge: In the Face of Climate Change, will be held on Thursday, August 31 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the John Jermain Memorial Library, 201 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, or to register, please visit johnjermain.org. Registration is required and limited to 35 attendees.