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Aug 18, 2010 11:01 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Mill Pond fish kill not caused by runoff; coincidence and longer term problems blamed

Aug 18, 2010 11:01 AM

Mill Pond in Water Mill suffers from nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, but the cause of a massive fish kill in the pond in 2008 was likely not contaminated runoff from nearby farm fields or lawns or leaking septic systems, according to the marine scientist who has been investigating the incident for the Southampton Town Trustees.

Christopher Gobler, Ph.D., an associate professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, told the Trustees and a crowd of Water Mill residents on Monday afternoon that it appears the fish kill was the product of a confluence of ecological and climatological conditions and human impact that conspired to vacuum oxygen from the lake on the evening of September 21, 2008, killing more than 4,000 pounds of fish.

The fish kill came on the heels of a two-week dry spell, so speculation that it had been caused by an influx of runoff contaminated by fertilizers from farms and lawns seems unfounded, Dr. Gobler said. And groundwater levels at the time were the lowest they had been in many months, so the likelihood that it was directly tied to contamination from the septic systems of waterfront houses was also unlikely, he said.

But for most of the 20th century, tiny Mill Pond was entirely surrounded by hundreds of acres of farm fields, which, though now largely replaced by houses, have left groundwater tables in the region high in nitrogen and phosphorus. Those water tables feed into Mill Pond, where the nitrogen and phosphorus provide the perfect fuel to feed blooms of blue-green algae each summer.

“With the high levels of nutrients and the high temperatures in the summer and the low amount of flushing, all the right ingredients are there for blue-green algal blooms,” Dr. Gobler said. “For those of you who live around the pond, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.”

The soupy green carpet of algae that covers the surface of Mill Pond each summer has been a focus of concern for residents around the pond for years. In 2008, the algae was particularly thick and as the huge algae bloom blossomed, the mercury took a sudden dip on September 21, dropping to just 41 degrees. The bloom collapsed that night and the next day. Not surprisingly, the fish kill happened simultaneously.

When algae blooms collapse they gobble up dissolved oxygen in the water as the individual algae cells die and decay. In the case of large blooms and shallow, poorly flushed water bodies, this commonly creates a condition called hypoxia, in which there is no oxygen left in the water. It’s also possible that the dying algae could have released some toxins, though Dr. Gobler said there is no way to tell if they had. Fish would also have been somewhat stressed by the sudden drop in temperature.

While the coincidences added up to an unfortunate mess, there was one very fortunate coincidence: the fact that Dr. Gobler and a group of his graduate students had been watching Mill Pond closely for years. They had reams of data about the conditions in the water right before the fish kill and right after and were able to scoop up fish as they were dying to be examined for foreign substances that might have caused the die-off.

No chemicals or other more serious contaminants were found, in the fish or in the lake, Dr. Gobler said. Rather, the conditions that caused the fish kill had more likely been present for years, and remain present.

Dr. Gobler’s scientific team had focused on Mill Pond as early as 2005 because of the thick blooms of blue-green algae, a particularly destructive phylum of bacteria because the thick carpets they form on water surfaces can starve other species of sunlight.

A wide variety of factors could be contributing to the high nitrogen levels in the pond—runoff, leaking septic tanks, even wildfowl feces—but the bulk of the contaminants that are making it into the lake are coming in through the groundwater and from decaying sediments in the bottom of the pond.

“There’s a big nitrogen problem with the groundwater in the area,” he said. “This should not be a surprise, it’s a legacy of fertilizer use from active and former farms.”

Dr. Gobler told residents at the meeting—including Tom Halsey, whose family has farmed the fields surrounding the pond for more than a dozen generations—that even though many of the farms are now gone, it will take many years for the residues of fertilizers to naturally flow out of the area in groundwater.

Residents peppered the scientist with questions about ways that the pond’s problems might be addressed—from upgrades to septic systems to mowing lily pads at the end of summer to keep them settling into the lake bottom, to wholesale dredging of the sediment at the bottom of the pond. Septic upgrades wouldn’t hurt but probably wouldn’t have a substantial impact, Dr. Gobler said, and large-scale dredging is probably not feasible, members of the Trustees said.

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Exactly what is the balance of phosphorous not only in fertizlizers, but petroleum additives, such as naptha, used as a rubber solvent?

What about the decompistion of galvanized rubber? You know, CAR TIRES? Where does all that worn rubber go? Runoff? The HELL you say!

Would not only fertilizers containing phosphorous, but the breakdown of galvanized rubber products lead to this condition?

I wonder...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Aug 19, 10 10:16 PM
I wonder if we could bond methane in the ocean, for that matter.

OH, wait, the ICE COLD ocean already does that. Warm it up, and you'll see not only that CO2 is child's play as a "greenhouse' gas, but if you survive long enough to see a methane saturated atmosphere, lightining would actually set the sky on fire.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Aug 19, 10 10:19 PM
take it easy Lex Luthor
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Aug 20, 10 10:29 PM
OK, I'll shutup...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Aug 22, 10 12:47 AM
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 20, 10 8:39 PM
So we are going to put more chemicals in, to counter-balance the chemical imbalances which we did not plan or predict? Who missed the memo's on this?

Mr. Lyman, please guaranty that this solution will work, and please post a bond in this regard.

Anna, and all other Town Board members, please consider posting similar bonds individually, as Town Board members, and on behalf of the Town.

This is OUR body of water which you are allowing to become polluted.

Have a ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 21, 10 7:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
Town Board has no say - it's a body of water "owned" by the Southampton Town Trustees, and any actions that take place in this pond will be at the sole discretion of the Town Trustees.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 22, 10 10:33 AM
You are right and wrong here Nature, the Trustees do "own" the pond "in Trust for all of the Freeholders and Commonality of the Town of Southampton", But they do often need to go before the Town Board to receive funding for various things. So their "sole" discretion only goes as deep as their pockets, once they ask for money from SHTB their sole discretion ceases to exist.
By ICE (1214), Southhampton on Aug 22, 10 6:57 PM
What's the connection between the solar powered machines used to stir up the lake and this tragedy? HMMMMMM?
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Aug 23, 10 7:02 AM
The connection is the Trustees leased them for a lot of money and they didn't do anything and the new plan won't do anything and will waste money.

The "solar bees" hardly had enough juice to make any dent in water movement and were completely ineffectual (at Mill Pond and Lake Agawam)
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 23, 10 9:12 AM
The Trustees did not pay for the Solar Bees in Mill Pond as they did not believe they would be effective. However, as the homeowners around the lake wanted to try them, they were given permission to try them at their own expense as an experiment. Lake Agawam has a bubbler system paid for by the Trustees and there hasn't been a fish kill there since. Bubblers work.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Aug 23, 10 10:32 AM
Lake Agawam has (or, I suppose had) solar bees. And you can't say that they put in bubblers and there haven't been fish kills, therefore bubblers prevent fish kills. There needs to be more evidence to draw a direct correlation.

And it was my understanding that the solar bees were leased from the company by the trustees. I never heard anything about the property owners around the lake paying for it.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 23, 10 12:03 PM
The bubbler idea seems to make sense, thats the way oxygen gets into fish tanks.
By ICE (1214), Southhampton on Aug 23, 10 12:42 PM
Lake Agawam does have bubblers and there haven't been fish kills. ICE is correct in his thinking. There are about a dozen of them. Try looking from the south end parking lotto see a few. No solar bees anywhere there. And, the Mill Pond homeowners did indeed pay for their solar bees because the Trustees didn't think they would work. Interestingly, one of the homeowners stands to make money if they were successful and could be sold nationally. A bit like the guy who wants to set up a wind turbine ...more
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Aug 23, 10 2:46 PM
Thanks for the details
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 23, 10 3:26 PM
why not get that blow-hard Tim Bishop to lay in the pond and bubble-off about this and that??
By uncleronk (136), southold on Aug 23, 10 2:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
The solar bees were leased by some of the residents around Mill Pond, not the Town Trustees. I certainly hope a solution to this algae bloom can be resolved soon. I grew up along the shore of Mill Pond and it's sad to see no one can swim, or fish these waters safely anymore. My late father Eric and my late brother Peter Corwith both proudly served on the Board of Trustees. Miss them both very much and I know they would do their best to resolve this problem. Let's hope the current members will find ...more
By linative (7), Lugoff on Aug 24, 10 11:45 AM
All right, all right, enough of this theorizing and blathering on. The solution is to empty the pond completely, rake and clear out the bottom, and then fill it with fresh, clean water. This was done to a lake I'm familiar with in Virginia, where I was stationed in the 50s. It temporarily euthanizes all the wildlife, but new generations of fish, turtles, bugs, what have you, can be added later. This is the ONLY solution to the problem facing this important ecosystem, and one that MUST be considered ...more
By Manorville Major (16), manorville on Aug 24, 10 3:41 PM
I hope that is a sarcastic comment... that will never, ever be done and should never, ever be done. Adding chemicals to the pond is bad enough, but draining it? Talk about messing with a natural system. Can you answer some of these questions?

1. Where are you going to put the water?
2. Where are you going to divert the water flowing in underground from the seven ponds system?
3. What season do you propose to do this in given that protected species of birds nest and raise their ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 24, 10 3:52 PM
1, in the basements of surrounding houses
2. see #1
3. whatever season will kill the most birds- there are too many anyway
4. send them to the chineese restaurants in brooklyn
5. drain the swamps- build mansions!!
6. raise taxes of the poor
7. the hell with them- they're always complaining anyway
8. drained from swimming pools of surrounding houses- they live on a pond, they don;t need pools
9. no its considered harvesting

any more dumb questions??
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Aug 25, 10 9:34 PM
How were any of them dumb questions?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 26, 10 9:04 AM
i was kidding i was kidding!!! oy!
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Aug 28, 10 7:18 AM
Manorville Mayor is on the money. Re-shape the botton to maximise the lake/pond's health at the same time. Some of the fish, frogs, etal. can be caught , kept healthy and returned to a refreshed habatat. Good to keep the local line of genetics going, you know.
By Lost Tribe (66), East Hampton on Aug 24, 10 7:44 PM
wow you people are really good at thinking outside of the box. Maybe you can answer some of the questions I posted above?

And how does "re-shaping the bottom maximise (sic) the lake/pond's health"?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 24, 10 10:42 PM
Now don't get all touchy feely with me about wildlife and ecosystems. All those fish, frogs, turtles and such can be used as food in the prison system (ask the French about delicious frogs legs and turtle soup). As for the water, it could and should be boiled and either evaporated into the atmosphere, or filtered and returned to the cleaned, reshaped pond bottom. Evaporating eliminates the need for storage. Now, concerning the seven ponds, what you do is, you stop them up with sand bags and such ...more
By Manorville Major (16), manorville on Aug 25, 10 10:38 AM
Thank god you are being sarcastic....
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 25, 10 11:29 AM
when a conultant have no clue what he is talking about, they refer to a coincidence as the cause of problem.

Sep 10, 10 4:08 PM appended by Sparkibew
*has* not *have*
By Sparkibew (28), southampton on Sep 10, 10 4:08 PM