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Oct 21, 2008 10:25 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Trustees propose a fix for Mill Pond

Editor's Note: Additional reporting for this story was done by Vera Chinese.
Oct 21, 2008 10:25 AM

The Southampton Town Trustees are proposing a fix to problems that they believe caused a recent fish kill in Mill Pond in Water Mill—although debate continues over what actually killed the fish.

Though the Trustees have not yet begun testing the water in the pond, Trustee Fred Havemeyer and Jim Walker, an environmental consultant with Inter-Science Research Associates, met last Wednesday with Lee Lyman, a Massachusetts biologist who specializes in ponds, to discuss what could have caused the massive fish kill that occurred on September 22.

Though a clear picture has not yet emerged, an increase in nutrients in the pond led to a massive blue-green algae bloom in mid-September. When the algae died after a quick cold snap, the decomposition process would have depleted oxygen in the pond, asphyxiating the fish.

Dr. Chris Gobler, a biologist from Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Science who has been monitoring the health of the pond for four years, is also concerned that a toxin in the algae itself could have killed the fish.

Mr. Walker, who addressed the Trustees at their meeting Monday afternoon, said that Mr. Lyman took one look at the pond and said “phosphorus.” Phosphorus is a nutrient found in fertilizers, laundry soaps and septic tanks.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gobler said that he believes that nitrogen, which is also a nutrient, is a greater factor in the condition of Mill Pond than phosphorus.

“It’s not phosphorus, it’s nitrogen that controls the growth of blue-green algae,” he said, adding that “people who work in lakes often assume it’s phosphorus” that causes algae blooms and fish kills here, but the agricultural soils in the area make nitrogen a greater factor than phosphorus.

He said that while phosphorus levels in the pond are high, nitrogen levels are much higher.

“There’s a lot of nitrogen coming in from the groundwater,” he said. “If you look at the areas north of Lake Agawam [in Southampton, where a recent fish kill occurred] and Mill Pond, they currently are, and formerly were, very rich in agriculture.”

He said that while nitrogen is the primary nutrient found in farm soils, phosphorus is more likely to come from septic tanks, laundry soap and lawn fertilizers.

Dr. Gobler would not comment, however, on the Trustees’ decision to focus on phosphorus, though he did say that he was a little surprised that he hasn’t heard from the Trustees for two weeks.

“We have a very cordial relationship with Dr. Gobler,” Trustee Fred Havemeyer said on Tuesday, adding that Dr. Gobler had never acted as an official consultant to the town.

Mr. Havemeyer said that he is very excited to be working with Mr. Lyman, who is a well-respected limnologist. He said that the Trustees expect to receive a proposal for testing the pond from Mr. Lyman within two weeks.

“We spent a fair amount of time there. We went to four sites and talked about water flow, seasonal impact, storm water runoff, fertilizers. He felt very confident that this mirrored other ponds he’d worked with,” said Mr. Havemeyer.

Mr. Havemeyer said that, while Mr. Lyman has considered nitrogen a factor, he believes phosphorus plays a much greater role in the growth of blue-green algae.

To fix the phosphorous problem, Mr. Lyman suggested introducing alum, a base that will cause the phosphorous to become inert and settle in the pond, preventing the algae from feeding on it.

“It is completely environmentally safe,” Trustee Brian Tymann said. He said that alum can be introduced in three doses so that it does not kill off all the algae, beginning in the spring of 2009.

The Trustees said that alum is non-toxic and will not cause any harm to the ecosystem. It will likely be inexpensive, but will require routine maintenance over the years.

“We are on the road to a very simple, easy solution,” said Mr. Havemeyer.

Dr. Gobler said he had no comment on whether alum is an appropriate solution to the pond’s problems. He also said he had no comment as to whether Alum could have a negative effect on the pond.

Dr. Gobler added that he did not intend to interfere with the Trustees’ management of the pond.

Though the town collected thousands of pounds of dead fish from the pond in the days after the September 22 kill, Mr. Havemeyer said it’s unlikely that enough fish died to necessitate restocking the pond.

He added that he’d initially thought that the large number of 3-inch-long white perch that died were this year’s juveniles, but Mr. Lyman had told him that they were likely stunted adults.

“The population was too large, and this has reduced it where it needed to be reduced,” he said, adding that the Trustees are prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure the health of the pond.

“Whatever we need to do, we’re going to go ahead and do it, if we can get the funds to do it,” he said. “The only caveat right now is that money is tight.”

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well duh ! any first year landscaper would know the answer to this one, when you have Chem Lawn keeping the lawns of the CAC members green eventually it's going to pollute something. I think that every person living around the pond should be fined and the EPA called in on the residents.
By typical (63), southampton on Oct 24, 08 5:22 PM