Blame the Dogs

A new, recently released study of Georgica Pond’s water quality contains a big surprise. Bacteria tests conducted by the Surfrider Foundation and Chris Gobler’s Stony Brook Southampton laboratory, paid for by the Friends of Georgica Pond, have for some time shown elevated fecal bacteria levels, especially after heavy rain. Now, thanks to further work by Dr. Gobler and several colleagues, a culprit, if not the source, has been identified: dogs.

Bacteria DNA in water samples taken between May and November were analyzed and the results were a shocker. Human waste accounted for less than 5 percent of the total, while dogs were responsible for about 67 percent. The rest came from birds and deer. 

Where the dog bacteria were highest is curious, too. According to a report prepared by the Gobler lab, Talmage Creek, which skirts the Montauk Highway rest area near Wainscott Stone Road, indicated the greatest amount, followed by Georgica Cove. The report surmises that people walking their pets in the rest area could account for the high numbers, but it notes that stormwater that drains from considerable distances is a likely factor as well. Intercepting road runoff before it can reach the pond should improve things, the report concludes.

Bacteria are just one aspect of water quality, of course. East Hampton Town recently imposed a requirement that the wastewater systems in all new construction be nitrogen-reducing. Other pressures on the pond’s ecosystem include lawn and landscape products, acidification due to climate change, fossil fuels, and, potentially, even trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs.

It is noteworthy that the Georgica bacteria studies are for the most part projects of nongovernmental groups. This brings to mind the work being done by Concerned Citizens of Montauk. East Hampton Town, for all its official enthusiasm for as yet unproven nitrogen-reduction systems, has lagged when it comes to getting the data necessary for designing effective remediation. Much more must be done if the waterways are to be restored and protected over the long term. 

Though readers might find it amusing that dog poop is implicated in this case, it is important information. The Friends of Georgica Pond, the Surfrider Long Island Chapter, and the Gobler lab are doing good work. They deserve the community’s thanks — and a swift response from state and local authorities.