Almost three years ago I walked into the office of a local environmental organization in Montauk for an impromptu conversation about their efforts. Montauk had begun to change at that point, not always in the best of ways it seemed to me, and I’d wanted to know how I could help.
The response of the executive director surprised me: water. The water – the ocean, the lakes, the water under the ground – much of it was and is seriously contaminated. I have been coming to the East End of Long Island for my entire life, and the pristine nature of the water, and the natural environment more broadly, was something I simply took for granted. The idea that surfing or swimming within 48 hours after it rained was unsafe wasn’t something I could so easily accept, nor the idea that much of the water in Lake Montauk where I learned to waterski was basically unsafe around the clock – for humans, to say nothing of the fish and wildlife, whose numbers have dwindled due to this contamination. I told myself he was being an alarmist. Probably because the whole thing was so disturbing to me, when I left the office I did so in a state of denial about all of it.
As luck would have it, it rained that night, a lot—and the next day the waves were great, and I went surfing. And it was really disgusting. The smell, the taste, everything – the water was horribly contaminated. I actually had a small cut on my foot that would normally be cleaned by salt water that instead festered. I returned to the environmental organization that same day, now resolved to take action.
Ultimately, with the help of Concerned Citizens of Montauk and Surfrider Foundation, I initiated and underwrote a water-testing regime, initially conducted at Ditch Plains at 4 – 5 sites, and in the southern part of Lake Montauk, which runs parallel to Ditch Plains. The testing effort has since been expanded considerably to elsewhere on the Atlantic side as well as Fort Pond.
The test results have not augured well. Clearly there is a significant ground water problem that is impacting all bodies of water in and around Montauk. It would not be unreasonable to speculate that elsewhere on the East End the water is suffering similarly. The reality is that we have a waste system in Montauk that one expert characterized as “a couple technological steps past outhouses.” We need a serious and permanent fix. These bodies of water are the lifeblood of the East End, and they must be preserved for generations to come.
The Long Island Marine Purification Initiative Alliance (LIMPIA, which means “cleaning” in Spanish) has been conceived with the goal of accomplishing nothing short of this. Resources will be allocated along the following lines to achieve this end:
- Continue testing to determine unambiguously the degree as well as the sources of the contamination
- Fund the research and science that will address the likely causes of water contamination and yield a viable plan to solve the problem
- Fund public and government relations work to raise necessary—and extremely lacking—awareness on the issue
- Bring together the necessary stakeholders, including local government, to reach agreement on a real and feasible solution to water contamination
A party is scheduled for July 18th as a formal kick-off to this initiative, and I’ve been heartened by the outpouring of support that’s come our way thus far. I want to thank everyone who has helped with this vitally important initiative, but also remind us all there’s still much to do.
– Luke Weil, Chairman of the Board of Directors