Like coastal and inland waterfront communities across the country, the Town of East Hampton is getting ready to address federal water quality standards that have been imposed recently on small municipalities. The program is intended to eliminate to the greatest degree possible the runoff of polluted stormwater into waterways. The program is known as MS4, in the confusing jargon of government, which signifies “municipal separate storm sewer system.” Its implications are far-reaching.
Back in 2009, the State of New York told the town that it would have to meet the standards and gave it a 2011 deadline. This was triggered in part by findings that Accabonac Harbor, Lake Montauk, and Northwest Creek were exceeding allowable pathogen levels.
Stormwater runoff is a leading source of contamination of the marine environment. East Hampton’s waters are among the town’s most cherished assets and part of what keeps the area viable as a summer retreat. Take away healthy bays, harbors, and creeks, and you take away much of what makes this place attractive — and worth living in. The rules will require the town to improve road drainage, check that land-use and development regulations are adequate, and inventory and fix any and every source of private discharge, something East Hampton officials have openly worried about paying for.
Public education is part of the plan of attack, with the idea that residents can make sure their own properties are not harming the environment and can help keep an eye out for violations.
The goals are ambitious, and they are long overdue. East Hampton will be the better for complying.