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Marine Water Quality Monitoring

The Office of Ecology routinely monitors the quality of marine surface waters throughout Suffolk County as part of various environmental and management programs. These activities were initiated in 1976 under the "208 Study" (Section 208 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972), a comprehensive water quality management program calling for the development of a plan to meet established water quality goals. A major component of the plan was the water quality characterization of the major estuaries in Suffolk County, including Great South Bay, the Huntington / Northport Bay system, Port Jefferson Harbor, and the Peconic Estuary. At the conclusion of the 208 Program, monitoring was continued at these and five other embayments (Moriches Bay, Shinnecock Bay, Nissequogue River, Stony Brook Harbor, and Mt. Sinai Harbor) in an effort to maintain a somewhat consistent database. Because of the requirements of other programs however, the frequency of monitoring was limited.

In 1986, in response to the "brown tide" bloom in the Peconic Estuary and the south shore bays, the Office expanded its monitoring in both breadth and frequency. In the Peconic Estuary, where the bloom wreaked havoc on a once prosperous bay scallop fishery, monitoring was increased to weekly with sampling stations extending through Gardiners Bay. This expanded effort continued under the Brown Tide Comprehensive Assessment and Management Program (BTCAMP), initiated in 1988, and later under the Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) in 1994.

Currently, monitoring is performed on an approximate monthly basis in the three bays comprising the South Shore Estuary Reserve (SSER) (Great South Bay, Moriches Bay, and Shinnecock Bay), in six north shore embayments (Huntington/Northport Bay Complex, Nissequogue River Estuary, Stony Brook Harbor, Port Jefferson Harbor, Mt. Sinai Harbor, and Mattituck Creek), and in the Peconic Estuary. The north shore sampling effort was initiated in 1999 as part of the Suffolk County North Shore Embayments Watershed Management Plan, a component of the Long Island Sound Study (LISS).

In response to requests from environmental groups and the general public, routine monitoring of two impaired water bodies on the south shore, the Forge River and Beaverdam Creek, has also been instituted in recent years. The Office is also actively monitoring the presence of "Harmful Algal Blooms" (HABs), including the Brown Tide, Red Tides (PSP), Cyanobacteria, and Cochlodinium (known as the rust tide), in numerous embayments throughout the county.

Additional monitoring is conducted in response to requests and complaints from elected officials, other agencies and from the public, regarding events occurring in the marine environment. Phenomena typically investigated include discolored waters, plankton blooms, fish kills, unusual odors, wash-ups of floatable materials, marina pump-outs, shellfish sanitation, wastewater discharges, and aquatic dermatitis.

What are some of the objectives of performing marine monitoring in Suffolk County?

Long term marine monitoring studies are necessary to establish a baseline of environmental conditions and to increase our understanding of processes that occur in the county's extensive marine and estuarine ecosystems. The resulting data provides a measure by which human impacts on the environment can be assessed, in addition to supporting research being done by other institutions and providing managers with information on which to base decisions.

What water quality constituents are sampled for?

Samples are collected for a variety of physical, chemical, and biological parameters, including temperature, secchi depth, irradiance (a measure of light transmittance), dissolved oxygen, salinity, conductivity, nutrients (various nitrogen & phosphorous compounds), coliform bacteria, suspended solids, chlorophyll-a, and phytoplankton. In certain situations, samples are also collected for the analysis of numerous organic compounds, including VOCs (solvents) and a variety of herbicides and pesticides.

Are any water quality reports or data available for downloading?

Yes. However, because collected data is subject to extensive quality assurance review prior to being released, there may be a significant lag between the date samples are collected and the availability of results. Water quality data currently available for downloading includes that collected through 2012 in the northshore embayments, various southshore bays and tributaries, and the Peconic Estuary.

Investigation of Fish Kills Occurring in the Peconic River - Riverhead, NY, Spring 2015

Suffolk County Government

H. Lee Dennison Bldg

100 Veterans Memorial Hwy
P.O. Box 6100
Hauppauge, NY 11788

Riverhead County Center

County Road 51
Riverhead, NY 11901