As expected, samples taken at South Lake Beach in Montauk after Monday’s rain showed the presence of human waste. The water would be clean enough to swim in by Thursday, at least according to Suffolk Health Department standards, but, frankly, we doubt many people — if they knew about the test results — would want to. The question for East Hampton Town is how officials should respond now that they have been reminded of the problem.
South Lake is one of two beaches within East Hampton Town’s boundaries where post-rainfall sampling shows unsafe conditions. The other is Havens Beach in Sag Harbor, where bureaucratic inaction has long delayed remediation. Two troubled beaches are two too many. Residents should expect those in charge to make safe bathing areas a top priority.
A cautionary note comes from the recent experience of Northport Village, which was cited by the Environmental Protection Agency for inadequate stormwater and wastewater discharge management — violations under the Clean Water Act. After inspections, the agency found that the village had failed at a planning level and also had maintenance problems with catch basins and drainpipes, conditions that have been observed here as well.
Northport has until Sept. 30 to beef up its road-runoff efforts, until Nov. 30 to deal with non-point sources into its harbor, and until Jan. 31 to complete a full pollution audit. Penalties could cost the village up to $37,500 a day if it fails to meet the deadlines.
East Hampton Town cannot wait until federal inspectors appear on our shores to improve the situation. It must identify and eliminate the sources of human waste at South Lake and work with Sag Harbor to finally solve the Havens Beach problem. These steps, though urgent, will take time. For this season, officials should post detailed warnings at these beaches to allow those who might go in the water to make informed choices.