Former Baykeeper Takes Up Familiar Cause

Defend H2O will advocate for the enactment of stronger water quality standards, sewage management reform, an end to use of the insecticide methoprene to control the mosquito population, and wetlands protection

Kevin McAllister, who served as Peconic Baykeeper for 16 years until his dismissal in March, has formed a new group aimed at restoring and protecting ground and surface waters on and around Long Island.

Defend H2O, comprising Mr. McAllister, Skip Tollefsen, the former owner of Lobster Inn in Southampton, and Mike Bottini, a naturalist and writer, will advocate for the enactment of stronger water quality standards, sewage management reform, an end to use of the insecticide methoprene to control the mosquito population, and wetlands protection.

The organization, Mr. McAllister said, will continue the work he has been engaged in for the last 16 years. “It’s very important work, and certainly there’s urgency for water protection out here,” he said. “I separate myself and this organization from the others in that I speak truth to power.”

His primary efforts, he said, will be in public education, through meeting with community groups and trying to bolster participation in policy formation. Enforcement, he said, is also essential.

Mr. McAllister said a report recently issued by the Nature Conservancy, asserting that wastewater from residential septic systems and sewage treatment plants accounts for half of the nitrogen pollution in the Peconic Estuary, is indicative of his persistence in defense of marine environments. “Ten years ago I was calling out Suffolk County’s report on same,” he said. “Influences from nitrogen from septic systems were dismissed as minimal. You have to address wastewater influences on a watershed-by-watershed basis . . . but as a whole, I firmly believed that nitrogen derived from septic systems was more pronounced than what was previously reported.” The Nature Conservancy’s report, he said, “brought accuracy to that assessment.”

He warned of “gutsy political decisions” that must supercede cost considerations and implications on future development. “That’s always been the reason we kick the can down the road,” he said of the costs of, for example, overhauling wastewater management. “You could bring forward the best available technologies that do exist in the marketplace. Enough denial. When elected officials suggest we’ll pump out septic systems every year and tell the public this is going to clean up our water, I’m going to call out that stuff as being ineffective and a distraction to what we really need to do.” New York State, he said, must adhere to and enforce federal water quality standards.

Mr. McAllister said he is challenging his dismissal from the Peconic Baykeeper group. A board member cited an inappropriate romantic relationship with the group’s development and communications director and alcohol abuse on the job. Mr. McAllister would not discuss the matter. “I will continue to put the spotlight on polluters,” he said of his work with Defend H2O, “as well as on progressive solutions.”