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CSHH developed a citizens water-monitoring program for Hempstead Harbor in 1992. The motivating factors for this effort were the chronic sewage spills from failing wastewater-treatment plants that were sited along Hempstead Harbor and the drastic cutbacks to Nassau County Department of Health’s water-quality monitoring program. CSHH’s monitoring program was intended as a vehicle for public education and outreach. Its goal was to foster increased awareness of environmental issues and encourage public participation in local conservation efforts, and this program became CSHH’s core monitoring effort.

Water monitoring during the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelle Lapinel McAllister, Carol DiPaolo, and Mark Ring (left to right)

Core Program

By 1998, improvements in water quality around the harbor were noticeable, and CSHH initiated a hard-clam density survey, working with local baymen, the Town of North Hempstead, and NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The results of the survey were promising and set the stage for the work that would begin eight years later to start the stringent water-quality testing necessary to determine whether the harbor’s shellfish beds could be reopened for harvesting.

CSHH worked hard to develop a credible water-testing program that could be relied on to indicate the health of the harbor. However, the primary purpose of the program was to encourage all who live, work, and enjoy recreational activities around Hempstead Harbor to renew their interest in the harbor, as well as in Long Island Sound, and to participate in restoration efforts. An important component of the program since its start has been to involve citizens in observing changing conditions around the harbor and notifying CSHH as well as appropriate municipal and environmental agencies of any unusual events affecting the harbor.

Over the years, the scope of the water-monitoring program expanded, as had the network of partners supporting it. In 1995, as CSHH continued its monitoring efforts, the nine municipalities that share jurisdiction over Hempstead Harbor formed the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee—a municipal partnership—to address the harbor’s water-quality problems using a watershed-management approach. CSHH became the first environmental organization to join the committee—as a nonvoting member and technical adviser.

In 2006, the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee was able to assume financial responsibility for the water-monitoring program through a grant from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, which has been a critical source of funding over the years. The Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor continues to coordinate and implement the program.

The Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor and the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee continue to work closely together on improving Hempstead Harbor’s water quality. The two organizations illustrate the great successes that can result from creating valuable partnerships that pool resources and maximize results to benefit the environment and local communities.

The Hempstead Harbor core water-monitoring program now encompasses weekly testing at up to 21 monitoring stations and includes a winter-monitoring component that assesses the bacteria and nitrogen loading to Hempstead Harbor at key shoreline outfalls. The program has an EPA-approved Quality Assurance Project Plan, and the data collected through the program have been used in local policy and planning decisions.

Reopening Shellfish Beds

By 2006, NYS DEC had begun the water-quality testing necessary to determine whether a portion of the outer harbor could be recertified for shellfish harvesting. Over the next several years, CSHH worked with local municipalities and environmental agencies in shellfish-seeding programs for the harbor and expanded the citizen’s monitoring program to support the goal of reopening shellfish beds in Hempstead Harbor.

A happy clammer in Hempstead Harbor

After five years of rigorous testing of water samples as well as samples of hard-shell clams from Hempstead Harbor, NYS DEC and NYS Department of Health determined that 2,500 acres of the outer portion of the harbor could be reopened for shellfish harvesting year-round. June 1, 2011, was the opening day for the recertified shellfish beds. For the first time in more than 40 years, commercial and recreational clammers could take shellfish from Hempstead Harbor.

Tappen Marina Monitoring Program

In 2019, in anticipation of the first-ever aquaculture project in Hempstead Harbor, CSHH received a grant from the Nassau County Soil and Water Conservation District (NCSWCD) to monitor water quality in Tappen Beach Park Marina. The program supports efforts by the Town of Oyster Bay and Cornell Cooperative Extension to place floating upweller systems (FLUPSYs), which act as nurseries for clams and oysters, in three town parks. The clams and oysters ultimately will be used to reseed town waters. The monitoring program for Tappen Marina is the first of its kind and will assess water-quality conditions prior to the arrival of seed stock and during the growth of the clams and oysters placed in the FLUPSYs.

NCSWCD awarded CSHH a second grant for this project in 2020, and work proceeded despite COVID-19 restrictions, precautions, and delays. Two million seed clams were placed in three FLUPSYs on July 31, 2020, and 50,000 oysters were placed in one FLUPSY on September 3, 2020. Because the shellfish were in the marina for only a short time, it is unlikely that there will be clear indications of changes their presence may have had on water quality in the marina. However, the monitoring program proved valuable in tracking the growth of the seed clams. The seed clams are removed for the winter, and plans are in place to have the FLUPSYs operating in Tappen Marina for the foreseeable future.

Lowering meter and platform for testing of water column

FLUPSYs to house seed clams and oysters in Tappen Marina

Seed clams for Tappen Marina aquaculture project

Unified Water Study

Since 2016, CSHH has participated in the Unified Water Study: Long Island Sound Embayment Research (UWS), funded by the Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative and now coordinated by Save the Sound. The UWS is an ecological study of Long Island Sound bays in both New York and Connecticut. It is intended to engage citizen scientists in assessing the health of the bays through use of uniform monitoring equipment and methodologies.

CSHH conducts water sampling in Hempstead Harbor for this program biweekly from May through October and performs three days of seaweed assessments. In 2019, 22 groups monitored 39 bays from Queens, NY, to Stonington, CT. The data collected from this program is used to compile a biennial report card comparing water quality for each bay based on testing parameters such as dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and chlorophyll a.

Unified Water Study in Hempstead Harbor, Michelle Lapinel McAllister, Mark Ring, and Elaine Neice (left to right)