Polluted Stormwater Runoff Threatens Estuaries

What is stormwater runoff, how does it impact local waterways, and what can we do?

This stormy fall is a good time to think about “stormwater runoff.”

First of all, where does the rain go after it falls? Well, that depends on where it lands. When rain falls on natural areas, it can percolate through the ground replenishing our groundwater supply. When it falls on paved roads, building roofs, parking lots, driveways, and even managed turf areas, it often becomes “stormwater runoff,” meaning this water from a storm runs off the land usually toward a water body, like the Peconic Estuary. 

Stormwater runoff on its own is not necessarily a problem; the problem arises when this runoff picks up potential pollutants as it heads towards the bay. For example, it may pick up oil and gasoline that has leaked from cars onto roadways, or fertilizer and pesticides from lawns and homes. As these pollutants enter our local waterways, they can make the water less habitable for plants and animals. 

As development has expanded around the Peconic Estuary, stormwater runoff has increased making it a concern for local water quality. However, there are many things we can do to help. We can reduce or eliminate the use of fertilizers and pesticides in our yards, eliminate car leaks, and give stormwater a chance to percolate into the ground. 

Group for the East End educators in partnership with the Peconic Estuary Program have worked with many community groups and school students to develop rain gardens, or small planted depressions that allow water to be absorbed into the ground. We have also worked with school and community groups to label storm drains in order to remind people not to dump anything in them as they connect directly to our bays.

If you or your group are interested in a project that will help you and others learn about and improve stormwater runoff issues, please contact me and we will be happy to help you protect the bay!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

T.J. Clemente November 21, 2012 at 06:17 AM
Who doesn't love a well written article like this one, I sail on the three major Bays all summer, I am glad Ms. Skilbred is all over stormwater runoff. Hopefully she is ready to take on the Mayor of Sag Harbor on the issue of the polution down at that the North Haven Beach. He can be difficult but I think she will be armed with the facts, and the will.
Stinker November 23, 2012 at 11:16 AM
Behavior control starting with the most vulnerable children while they are away from their parents is not cool.
Jaguar-Guy November 23, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Man, Stinker - Are you against EVERYTHING ??? Why not write something yourself, so everyone can take shots at you ?? You wrote some jerk comment on T.J.'s heroin article too.
Bob Schepps November 23, 2012 at 01:30 PM
"or fertilizer and pesticides from lawns and homes." No mention of farms which lead the rest locally and globally in nitrogen run off. "they can make the water less habitable for plants and animals." Actually nitrogen run off PROMOTES the growth of plants which does create issues for other species of life but it is a fertilizer. Dumping is illegal and should be enforced. But the reasons should be fact based and weighed in the proper order. May be we should stop spending millions on buying development rights from farms to stop the pollution. Or maybe those with such a compelling need to preserve and protect should cement their cesspools from leeching and just have the waste extracted and processed at their expense. According to the last Peconic Estuary report I've seen over 95% of our estuaries are meeting or beating standards set for run off pollution. So stop using such "Threatens(ing)" language especially when addressing kids and promoting your own 330 word paid agenda.
Fred 'n Freeda November 23, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Fertilizers should be eliminated by the DEC immediately...with setbacks for lawns and gardens enforced. I cannot understand how any lawn can run to the water's edge, much less be covered with fertilizers 8 times a year. What is the DEC doing? Sleeping??? Enforce the existing laws NOW from Lake Agawam and all our ponds throughout the bays, creeks and streams.
joe insider November 23, 2012 at 06:49 PM
My kids are long grown, however, I do not see that the environmental education that they received during the "Earth Day" years of the 1970's was behavior control as much as it was about elevating awareness of our impact on the environment around us. I see this as no different. It is a good idea and worth teaching our children about. By the way, I happen to be a Ronald Reagen Republican and not an advocate for Agenda 21. That's a completely different issue.
joe insider November 23, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Nitrogen at natural levels promotes growth of plants, etc. However you seem to overlook that the nitrogen at ELEVATED levels promotes growth of algae blooms and that is not good for the marine environment. While I agree that the reasons should be fact based, we need to look at at all of the facts not just some. Nitrogen loading, as science is coming to understand, is primarily caused by leeching of septic systems into the groundwater which, sooner or later, ends up in the marine environment. Buying farmland rights seems to be a good way of reducing septic flow into the groundwater. Storm runoff is a culprit of other pollutants not just a source of nitrogen from lawn products.
Bob Schepps November 24, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Hey Joe farms largest source of nitrogen run off anywhere however farms look pretty and raise our property values. Development can be done clean using real science without scaring the BeJesus out of 5 year olds. And the cause of algae blooms are still NOT completely understood. Again let me suggest that you go to local hardware store and buy a few bags of cement and dump it into YOUR cesspool. Then every month just call your local carter and have the pool pumped. Zero effluent save the planet and the estuaries (95% meet standards). All Good. And to Fred and Freeda I like chasing a little white ball around grass. You might not agree with my past time however lawns are property owners past times and a source of value to them. I personally refuse to fertilize my property much to the dismay of my neighbors (read Dandelion Wars written by a local author). Don't Even Consider (DEC)
joe insider November 24, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Actually the Suffolk County Department of Health Services has a good map showing nitrogen levels county wide. The higher readings are not in and around the agricultural areas but in and around the developed areas with no public sewer. It is true that farms contribute to the nitrogen levels but to suggest that they are the chief source is not based on any study or science-based evaluation that I am aware of. By the way, there is no need for me to cement up my cesspool. I have it pumped out twice a year. You see, some people are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
bchbum11968 November 24, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Have you ever seen the run off from Agawam and where it goes?? It goes directly into the ocean, it's carried under the street by pipe and dumps into the ocean just east of the Bathing Corp. It is a greenish color and is gross. Where is the DEC on this one????


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