With Pledges in Place, Water Testing Will Begin in Sag Harbor

The Sag Harbor Harbor Committee has received pledges from the Sag Harbor Yacht Club, the Sag Harbor Partnership and Sag Harbor Village to help it launch a water testing program this year. Stephen J. Kotz photo

Thanks to major pledges by the Sag Harbor Yacht Club and the Sag Harbor Partnership, Sag Harbor Village will be able to move forward with a plan to test water quality this year at at least four locations scattered across the waterfront.

Under the proposal from the village’s Harbor Committee, Dr. Christopher Gobler of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Science will lead a team that will test the water for the presence of harmful bacteria, algae, nitrogen and other pollutants, while also taking temperature, salinity, pH and other readings.

“We are going to have the ability to look over the course of the year at the quality of the water from multiple perspectives,” said Harbor Committee chairman John Shaka, who called the public-private partnership “a big win.”

So far, the Sag Harbor Yacht Club has pledged $15,000, the Sag Harbor Partnership $6,000 and Herbert Sambol, the alternate member of the Harbor Committee, has personally pledged $1,000. They have been joined by the village board, which announced on March 14 it would contribute $7,500 for the work.

Mr. Shaka said the Harbor Committee is seeking up to another $7,500 from the East Hampton Trustees, which would allow a fifth testing station. The committee also wants to raise another $15,000, which would allow it to pay for additional analysis that would pinpoint the sources of nitrogen and other contaminants in the bay, whether from leaching septic systems or road runoff.

Mr. Shaka said his committee and others involved would take their pitch to organizations including the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, homeowner associations and private individuals in the effort to raise the balance of the money needed.

The water samples collected this year will provide the village with a baseline that can be used to help it apply for future grants from the county and state for water quality improvement projects, added committee member Mary Ann Eddy. “I find it really exciting,” she said. “This is a project we have been working on for a year and a half, maybe longer than that. It’s one first step in getting a handle on what is going on and coming up with solutions.”

She noted that Dr. Gobler’s lab has been able to pinpoint the source of fecal contamination in Georgica Pond in East Hampton, where the majority of the problem has been traced to dog feces, and it would be able to provide Sag Harbor with similar data.

One collecting station will be placed at Havens Beach and another near the Sag Harbor sewage treatment plant. Two other stations are expected to be placed in Sag Harbor Cove. If additional funding can be found, another station would be placed off Marine Park.

“Anyone involved with Sag Harbor knows the waterfront is what makes it so special,” said Rob Camerino, the former commodore of the Sag Harbor Yacht Club and head of its water quality committee. “We take our position on the waterfront very seriously, and we’d like to see the cleanest harbor possible.”

“By doing this we’ll be able to get a baseline study for where our water quality is,” said Sag Harbor Village Trustee Ken O’Donnell on March 14 after the village board agreed to contribute to the project. “We’ll be able to approach both East Hampton and Southampton town CPFs to acquire funds for water quality projects in the village.”

“Without data, you can’t even have a conversation,” added Trustee Aidan Corish. “We’ll be able to see the ebb and flow of pollutants in our water and tie that back to what’s going on on land. Right now, we’re in the dark as to what really goes on out there over the course of a full calendar year.”

Although all the money needed is not yet in hand, both Mr. Shaka and Ms. Eddy said it was important for the first water samples to be taken early in the spring, before the boating season begins and summer residents return to their homes.

Mr. Shaka said anyone who would like to contribute to the effort could call the village at (631) 725-0224 or send an email to boards@sagharborny.gov.