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Jul 16, 2014 10:07 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Phoslock Worked, But Didn't Work In Mill Pond, State Says

Jul 16, 2014 10:56 AM

An analysis of the waters of Mill Pond in Water Mill by the State Department of Environmental Conservation has concluded that the application of Phoslock in the pond last year did appear to reduce the amount of phosphates in the pond’s waters, as intended, but did not result in an overall reduction in blooms of blue-green algae that have plagued the lake for more than a decade.

The report says that the continued algae blooms in the summer of 2013, just after the Phoslock application, may have been the result of exceptionally heavy rainfalls in June and September last year, after which the pond saw significant spikes of algae blooms, particularly the toxic blue-green algae that have spurred the Suffolk County Health Department to post warnings along the shoreline warning people to avoid contact with the pond’s soupy green waters.

This week, members of the Southampton Town Trustees, who spearheaded the Phoslock experiment, and Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera met with members of the Water Mill Citizens Advisory Committee to discuss how the town and Trustees will move forward with addressing the water quality problems in Mill Pond. The Trustees said that now that the state report has been received, six months after it was expected, they would like to resume a regimen of water testing and the development of a detailed understanding of the factors that affect the pond’s waters throughout the year with an eye toward conducting a second round of Phoslock treatment in the future.

A second treatment had been planned for this past spring, but was canceled because of delays in the state report, which was supposed to be issued in January, as well as doubts about the efficacy of the first application.

Trustee Scott Horowitz said that the variables involved, particularly the heavy rainfalls, and continued study of the varied sources of nutrients going into the pond, should dictate that more testing be done. However, he said the efforts with Phoslock should not be abandoned entirely.

“In my opinion, it warranted additional testing and continuing to treat the pond,” Mr. Horowitz, who was not yet on the Board of Trustees when the Phoslock experiment was conducted, told the CAC on Monday night. “There are variables and you have to make some adjustments. But it did show there was some sequestration of phosphates, which is what you were trying to do. I think abandonment of it is a bad idea.”

In April 2013, after two years of planning, the town and the Trustees paid $259,000 to a Connecticut company, SePro, to spread Phoslock in the pond in hopes of removing phosphorous from the water. Scientists had determined that high phosphorous levels were the main catalyst for the blooms of algae, which feed on the nutrient. Phosphorous is a common nutrient found in fertilizers and human and animal waste. Phoslock, a clay-like compound, was engineered to bond with phosphorous molecules and sink them to the bottom where they cannot be consumed by algae. It has been used extensively in Europe, Canada and Australia to combat algae blooms in reservoirs and lakes.

The 2013 treatment was to be the first of two applications that SePro had prescribed for the pond based on estimates of phosphorous levels in the water.

But the project was supposed to be done in coordination with a stormwater runoff abatement project, which has still not been started. The first phase of the project, redesigning the outflow from Deerfield Road into the pond to reduce the amount of sediment carried by stormwater, is funded by the town but has not yet been started. A conceptualized second phase, which would have sought to greatly reduce the amount of rainwater that flows into the pond from farm fields, homes and roads to the north along Deerfield Road and Head of Pond Road, has been shelved for redesign following logistical problems.

Without the stormwater abatement, officials admitted on Monday, the Phoslock project was substantially handicapped when torrential rains in June 2013, totaling more than some 4 inches in one day and 8 inches over a five-day period, sent a river of muddy, brown water flowing unabated into the pond.

Officials noted that the heavy rains were anomalous and not counted on in the planning of the Phoslock application. No amount of planning could have prepared the experiment for such an onslaught, they said, but they have come to realize in hindsight that the overall planning of the project, including accurate understandings of how much phosphorous was coming into the pond through groundwater intrusion and other factors, like roosting geese, was insufficient.

“One of the obvious things was that the nutrient budget was deficient,” Ms. Scalera said on Monday. “One of the things we decided we needed to do was a full year of testing to get a true measure of what the nutrient budget should be. We had to wait for this report to come in, so now that we have it I think we should pick up with the testing again.”

Trustee Bill Pell said that the town will need to pick up most of the $5,000 monthly cost of the water testing.

“The Trustees cannot afford to pay that,” he said. “We did not pollute the pond. The Town Board has to step up and pay for that.”

Members of the CAC pressed the officials for a renewed and better coordinated effort with Phoslock, as well as for a concerted new approach to reduce some of the controllable sources of phosphorous loading in the pond, like lawn fertilizers and seepage from residential septic systems.

“We’ve got to stop this Band-Aid stuff ... you have to stop the stuff from going in there,” said Tom Halsey, whose family farms on Deerfield Road. “If you come home from the movies and find your kitchen flooded, what’s the first thing you do? You find the damn leak. Then you go get the mop.”

Residents suggested that the town needs to pass legislation mandating things like 15-foot-wide buffers of natural vegetation between the pond and any fertilized lawns or roadways in the pond watershed, pumping out septic systems at houses around the pond and limiting the use of fertilizers by landscaping companies.

“It’s going to take policy on the part of the Town Board and it may take some politically difficult decisions on the part of the Town Board, but there are things we need to do,” resident Steve Abramson said. “The only way these things are going to happen is if they are mandated.”

Tom White, who lives just up the street from the pond, said he suspects the impact of thousands of geese roosting on the pond in the fall has a bigger effect than realized. He noted that Wickapogue Pond in Southampton, which was also recently posted as a health hazard because of blue-green algae blooms, never had water quality problems until geese started roosting there in recent years. Geese can defecate nearly one pound of waste a day, he said, which could amount to more than two tons a day in Mill Pond during the height of the fall and winter migrations. Residents suggested that the town or the Trustees could easily, and relatively inexpensively, pay someone to scare the geese out of the pond each day in winter.

Whatever the solutions, the Trustees and Ms. Scalera said they are committed to finding a path to fixing Mill Pond’s problems, because its issues are found in ponds throughout the town.

“We’re sticking with Mill Pond because if we can solve that pond,” Trustee Ed Warner Jr. said. “It will give us a template we can use throughout the rest of the town.”

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