By Michelle Pleim
You just finished dinner with the family and it’s that time of the night… bath time. After corralling your children, you plop them in the tub filled with warm water and their favorite water toys (that help make bath time less like a necessary evil and more like playtime). Your mind is sprinting from one thought to another. “Do the kids have clean clothes for school tomorrow?” “What are we going to have for dinner tomorrow night?” “Do I have any meetings tomorrow?” But do you ever stop to think about the water your child uses everyday to clean themselves, play in, and even drink? Where does it come from and how clean is it?
Long Islanders get our water from right beneath our feet. Long Island has a sole-source aquifer which means the soil and rock below the surface stores and carries groundwater. Everyday water is pumped out of the aquifer for our use and whenever it rains, the aquifer is recharged.
We use this water to cook with, bathe our children and ourselves in, and to drink! But that’s not all; the fresh water in the aquifer also flows into our rivers, bays and harbors and creates our surface water. We use that same water when we go fishing, kayaking and swimming.
There are 2.8 million Long Islanders and everything that each of us does on the surface impact our groundwater and surface waters!
Chemical fertilizers that we put on our lawns to make them green isn’t fully absorbed by the grass and is being washed away into our aquifer. What’s even worse-the waste that we flush down the toilet that goes into a cesspool or septic tanks slowly seeps into the soil and into our aquifer. Over 70% of homes in Suffolk County have individual cesspools or septic systems. Think of all of that sewage!
Because of our actions on the surface, Long Island’s water quality has been diminishing.
Nitrogen is a nutrient necessary for living things, but when too much nitrogen is introduced into an ecosystem, the natural balance is thrown off. Sewage and fertilizers are both very high in Nitrogen.
In the past year alone we have seen the devastating effects of nitrogen pollution. In April and May of 2015, 100 dead diamondback terrapin turtles washed ashore, startling Long Islanders. Just a few weeks later, tens of thousands of rotting fish washed ashore leaving eastern Suffolk County with a serious problem on their hands-
What is causing marine life in our bays and harbors to die?
It didn’t take long for Suffolk County to realize that nitrogen pollution was the source of the marine wildlife die-off. Since then, every level of government has agreed, Long Island has a nitrogen pollution problem and we have to do something about it now!
While the local, county and state governments are busy planning large scale changes to the way that we handle sewage on Long Island, there are plenty of things that you can be doing at home to help Long Island’s waters.
Don’t Flush Drugs. Now that you know what happens to everything we flush down the toilet (hint: it ends up in our water), you can understand why flushing expired or unwanted drugs down the toilet would be a bad idea. Trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, such as anti-seizure and antibiotic drugs, are showing up in Long Island’s groundwater. Instead of flushing them, find out about local take-back programs in your area that provide safe disposal of pharmaceuticals. Visit the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s website for a complete list.
Be a Good Shopper. Chances are as Mom, you do the shopping for the household. Be sure to read labels of products you purchase and don’t buy toxic chemical products at all. Use eco-friendly, non-toxic and natural substitutes. Vinegar is great to clean your floors and add baking soda for a great drain cleaner. Finally, don’t pour caustic chemicals down the drain. Instead, take them to your local S.T.O.P. (Stop Throwing Our Pollutants), disposal site.
3. Pick Up After Your Pets. Just like you and I, our pets can leave contaminants behind that pose a threat to water quality. Pet waste contains nutrients that encourage weed and algae growth and it can contain bacterial diseases that threaten human health. Make sure that you pick up after your pets and properly dispose of the waste in either the toilet or the trash.
4. Maintain Your Vehicle. Regular maintenance is good for your car, but it’s also good for the environment! Cars can develop fuel or fluid leaks that can send hazardous materials from paved surfaces into our drinking and surface waters. Be sure to repair fluid leaks immediately. Also, don’t send toxic cleaning fluids or hazardous materials into road or storm drains when washing your car.
5. Change Yard Maintenance. Did you know that 90% of water used on Long Island during the summer is for lawns? Over watering washes fertilizers, pesticides and waste into our groundwater, streams, lakes and bays. Eliminate toxic pesticides and fertilizers or choose organic and biodegradable products. Water your lawn only when needed and only in the early morning or late evening when water evaporates less quickly. Finally, cut your grass 3 inches high to build stronger root systems and require less water.
6. Maintain Your Property. When buying new appliances, switch to EPA certified “watersense” appliances which can save water and money. Clean gutters regularly and direct them to drywells or vegetated areas, never onto paves surfaces where water can carry harmful contaminants into drinking and surface waters. DO NOT dump garbage, cigarettes, leaves or chemicals into storm drains and make sure that these storm drains are clear of trash and debris and functioning properly. If they need attention, notify your town or village immediately.
7. Use Water Conservatively. We all use water to cook, clean, wash clothes and dishes and even ourselves! Dishwashers use 4 to 10 gallons of water per use, while laundry machines use 25 to 40 gallons. Showering uses 2 to 5 gallons of water per minute while lawn waters uses 50 to 100 gallons every 10 minutes. To conserve water, make sure your family doesn’t leave the water running while brushing teeth, have everyone try to take shorter showers and only run the dishwasher and washing machine when they are full.
8.Become a Long Island Mom for Clean Water!
By joining, you will receive information on how you can protect water at home, how to advocate for water protection initiatives and upcoming clean water rallies and events for the whole family! Become a Long Island Mom for Clean Water before June 1st and receive a FREE welcome packet that includes educational materials & fun activities for your kids! Join today at longislandmomsforcleanwater.org/join.
Also don’t forget to ‘like’ us on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter to stay up to date on recent Long Island water news as well conservation tips and environmental educational opportunities.
FREE Welcome Packet for Signing up to be a LI Mom for Clean Water
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors;
We borrow it from our children.” –Native American Proverb