Over the last several decades, multiple organizations dedicated to improving water quality on our bays and harbors have emerged. A mix of local government, civic and not-for-profit groups have made a significant difference.
In the 1980s Hempstead Harbor was in dire circumstances. Newsday had labeled it as “dying” due to sewage leaks from aging plants, rotting sand barges and low oxygen levels that lead to periodic fish kills. In response to this a citizen’s group, the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor (www.coalitiontosavehempsteadharbor.org) was formed in 1986 to bring attention to the problems plaguing the Harbor.
Because of complex municipal jurisdictions, it was hard to get a governmental focus on the issues. In the mid-1990s the idea for an inter-governmental group was conceived by Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli and former Sea Cliff Mayor Ted Blackburn.
In 1995 funds were received from the New York State Department of State for a part-time director and to hire experts to prepare an in-depth Water Quality Improvement Plan and the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee (HHPC, hempsteadharbor.org/ ) was born. The committee is composed of the villages of Sea Cliff, Sands Point, Flower Hill, Roslyn and Roslyn Harbor, the City of Glen Cove, Towns of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead, and Nassau County.
The committee works in conjunction with the Coalition to carry out an extensive water quality monitoring program. This coordinated approach has allowed the committee to tackle big projects like the restoration of Scudders Pond and re-opening the mouth of the harbor to clamming after decades of being closed to that activity.
The success of HHPC quickly led to implementing another inter-municipal committee in the bay to the west, Manhasset Bay. in 1998 North Hempstead, Nassau County, and 11 of the now 13 watershed villages entered into an inter-municipal agreement to form the Manhasset Bay Protection Committee ( MBPC, www.manhassetbayprotectioncommittee.org ). A grant from the state Department of State-funded a Water Quality Improvement plan which was released in 1999.
The committee is composed of the villages of Baxter Estates, Flower Hill, Great Neck, Kensington, Kings Point, Munsey Park, Manorhaven, Plandome, Plandome Heights, Plandome Manor, Port Washington North, Sands Point and Thomaston, Town of North Hempstead and Nassau County.
The committee carries out water quality monitoring in conjunction with the Town Bay Constables and Nassau County’s Dept. of Health water quality lab. MBPC has created educational materials on multiple issues, a storm drain medallion marking program, and developed interpretive educational signage around the bay.
In 1987 in Oyster Bay harbor, a group of citizens became concerned about a proposed development at the Jakobson Shipyard site on the Oyster Bay waterfront. Though it would have created economic development, it would have also led to pollution of the Bay’s namesake oyster beds. Friends of the Bay (FOB https://www.friendsofthebay.org/ ) formed and by 1990 had defeated the development proposal.
The group hired an executive director and led a public visioning process for the Oyster Bay waterfront. In 1997 the shipyard was purchased by the state and the Town of Oyster Bay as the future Waterfront Center. FOB has carried out water quality monitoring, septic education, sponsors the annual Bay Day, restored the oyster sloop Christine, and created planning documents, culminating in the Watershed Action Plan.
One of the key recommendations of the Plan was the creation of an inter-municipal Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee (OBCSHPC https://www.oysterbaycoldspringharbor.org/ ).
In 2012, Nassau County, the Towns of Oyster Bay and Huntington, the City of Glen Cove and 13 villages signed an agreement creating a new protection committee. OBCSHPC has worked with FOB on multiple projects and created a pet waste program, held beach clean-ups and planted sea grass.
The Committees are watershed based. A watershed is an area of land which drains to a particular body of water. Some municipalities belong to more than one Protection Committee as their boundaries cross geographic-based watersheds.
Most of the unsewered area in Nassau County is along the north shore, comprising nearly 70 percent of the land area of the north shore watersheds. Because of this, sister committees HHPC, MBPC and OBCSHPC worked jointly on the CESSPOOL Project creating the Get Pumped LI website ( www.getpumpedli.org ) for homeowner education on maintaining septic systems which impact the north shore embayments.
The three north shore Nassau committees are not alone. Going east, in 2010 a Protection Committee formed for Northport Harbor ( https://www.huntingtonny.gov/NHWQPC )
composed of municipal, not-for-profit and civic groups to focus on impairments to the harbor from bacteria, nitrogen and harmful algal blooms like Red Tide that cause shellfish closures. There are three federally funded, EPA-sponsored water quality programs on the Island; The Peconic Estuary Program (PEP), the Long Island Sound Study (LISS), and the South Shore Estuary Reserve (SSER).
All three have Citizen’s Advisory Committees that allow local stakeholders to have a voice in planning. Numerous local municipalities, civic and not-for-profit groups have contributed to improving water quality in the bays, harbors, streams, lakes and rivers across the island.
The partnerships forged by inter-municipal groups and environmental organizations have succeeded at tasks that would have been overwhelming for individual municipalities or groups. That collective effort over the decades has made the Island a better place for both people and wildlife.