By Stephen J. Kotz
If several key elements — most importantly, funding — fall into place, marine biologist Dr. Christopher Gobler of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, will lead a team that will conduct regular testing of Sag Harbor waters.
The goal, according to village officials, is to establish a baseline of water quality at places like Havens Beach, the village’s only bathing beach, inside the breakwater and in Sag Harbor Cove.
As proposed by Dr. Gobler, the water testing project would cost $29,878 for the first year. The village board has tentatively agreed to foot 25 percent of the bill and is in discussions with organizations including the Sag Harbor Yacht Club and the Breakwater Yacht Club, as well as other waterfront businesses, to cover another 25 percent of the cost. The village is also expected to reach out to both East Hampton and Southampton towns to ask them to share in the cost of the project.
“We need to establish a baseline before we can move forward and ask the towns for CPF money for water quality projects,” said Sag Harbor Village Trustee Ken O’Donnell. “I don’t think anyone in Sag Harbor wouldn’t agree water quality isn’t what it was 30 years ago.”
Mr. O’Donnell said the testing would have to be funded each year, but he added that initial expenses would drive up the first-year cost.
Mayor Sandra Schroeder said she supported the initiative in general but wanted to make sure both towns are on board. “I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes,” she said, adding that pinpointing the source of water pollution is not always an easy task, especially with two tidal cycles each day, flushing water from the cove out into the bay.
The village’s Harbor Committee, which has authority over development projects that require wetlands permits and oversees the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, has long lobbied for the village to conduct its own water testing and asked Dr. Gobler, whose water testing laboratory, has done extensive testing of East End waters, to propose a scope of work back in 2016.
Currently, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services tests the water at Havens Beach, especially after major rain storms, to ensure that the water quality there meets bathing standards. The state Department of Environmental Conservation conducts periodic testing inside the breakwater and in Sag Harbor Cove. The village itself is required to test the outflow from its sewage treatment plant.
“We are hoping to do something that is much more comprehensive than is being done now,” said Mary Ann Eddy, a member of the Harbor Committee. “The towns will give grants for water quality projects, but not for testing. And we want to be able to go to them and specifically say ‘We need this project because we have this problem.’”
Two years ago, voters in both Southampton and East Hampton towns approved an amendment to the town’s Community Preservation Funds that would allow up to 20 percent of the annual proceeds to be used for water-quality projects. Both towns are focusing, for now, on replacing aging septic systems, but are also considering larger scale projects.
Ms. Eddy said that the water testing has become more and more sophisticated. County testing at Havens Beach identifies fecal coliform, but Dr. Gobler’s lab can separate out whether that fecal matter comes from humans, geese or even the dogs that many people walk in a large field near the beach, she said.
According to the proposal submitted by Dr. Gobler, there would be testing stations placed at Havens Beach, in the boat basin, off Marine Park; under the bridge near the village B Dock and Sag Harbor Cove Yacht Club and in the upper cove, not far from the culvert leading out of Otter Pond.
Besides measuring harmful algal blooms and fecal coliform concentrations, the testing will measure temperatures, salinity, oxygen levels, acidity and other factors.