McAllister warns of climate change’s effect on septic systems

Aquaman Of The East End

This local guy is really trying to drain the swamp.

After Concerned Citizens of Montauk president Laura Tooman recently presented the East Hampton Town Board with a scary report on the escalating levels of bacteria and blue-green algae blooms in the Fort Pond often too polluted to recreate in, I wanted to take a shower.

In another state.

Instead I called Kevin McAllister. I needed a local, down-to-earth science guy to explain this problem stripped of politics, special interests, or hyperbole. McAllister, who lives in Amagansett, is a local boy who grew up in Terrell River hunting, fishing, swimming, and boating in the forests and waters of Suffolk County and the East End.

After being inspired by Mr. Roger Halsey’s eighth-grade science class in Center Moriches middle school, he was bitten for life by the science bug. That science class and falling in love with a gorgeous babe named Mother Nature led McAllister into a life of higher education in science and a career as an environmental scientist.

McAllister has undergraduate degrees in natural resources conservation and marine biology and a masters of science in coastal zone management, and has received over 15 awards from government, media, civic, and environmental organizations for natural resources conservation.

Before founding the non-profit DefendH2O, McAllister worked to preserve the shorelines of Florida and served as chief Peconic Baykeeper for 16 years.

Protecting the waters on the East End is Kevin McAllister’s calling in life. McAllister’s biggest concern these days is that hot Mama Nature is getting hotter.

“Global warming and climate change are directly responsible for what is contaminating the waters on the East End and all over Long Island,” says McAllister. “As the Earth heats up, polar caps melt, and sea level rise and climate changes bringing us more severe storms and heavier rains than I ever remember as a kid when I’d go knock on a friend’s door at 6 AM, his mother would answer in a robe, she’d go wake him up, and we take our rifles and fishing rods and boat over to Great Gun Beach to hunt and fish and swim and camp for a week in the summer.”

McAllister says that because sea levels have risen four inches in 40 years since his childhood days — and will rise another 16 to 30 in the next 40 — it has created an environmental emergency in places like the East End.

“As the coastal water rises and the head waters now meet the ground waters where the septic systems are buried, especially near the shore, the human fecal waste and urine now meet and contaminate our ponds, creeks, harbors, and bays. This is causing a rise in nitrogen and bacteria called enterococcus. It is not exclusive to human waste, but when added to the amounts of fecal waste from waterfowl, dogs, and warm-blooded wildlife, it makes the waters contaminated for humans and animals,” he explained.

McAllister says the old septic tanks were designed when the water levels on the East End were much lower and so the bacteria from humans waste were often contained inland in underground leaching pools. “The increase in density and population on the East End over the past four decades all adds to sheer volume of human waste,” says McAllister. “More homes, more people, more waste. More nitrogen and bacteria meeting our rising coastal waters.”

Let’s cut to the chase: Our waters are now basically a s—t show.

To remedy this, McAllister says, local ordinances need to be passed mandating property owners to redesign septic systems that denitrify the wastewater and separate it from direct contact with ground water. That will help reduce the pollution of the precious waters of the East End. This is costly.

“There will be pushback from some developers, the real estate community, and some homeowners,” McAllister says.

What’s the use of owning a piece of gorgeous waterfront land if you can’t swim, fish, ski or boat in the waters?

“This cannot be voluntary,” says McAllister. “We need to pass laws making it mandatory to redesign septic systems at the local level to protect local waters.”

And McAllister says that bacteria is only half the problem. “The heavy rains we have now suffer due to climate change also wash toxic chemicals from our lawns, streets, parking lots, filled with lethal mosquito pesticides like methoprene, and other toxins, into our storm drains and into a network of underground pipes that empty into our beautiful waters,” McAllister says.

“When you send your kids or grandkids out to swim they will be swimming in sewer water filled with bacteria and toxins. And it is only going to get worse if we don’t do something about it now. Reversing the pollution trend will take the full participation of the community and the full commitment of the government officials that they elect,” he said.

When it comes to action responding to climate change crises, it has been difficult for elected officials because they think in two- and four-year election cycles. But Mother Nature thinks in decades. “In the next four decades, the water will have risen from 16 to 30 inches,” McAllister says.

“I’ve seen the effects of climate change firsthand in the natural beauty spots all over my childhood stomping grounds. In Terrell River, for example, there are towering 60-foot oak trees that can only grow in dry soil. Today the rising waters have turned the ground they grew in into a swamp. Today they are hulking, leafless snags, long dead. These mighty oaks have literally drowned. That’s in 40 years. In another 40 years, they will stand in a foot of water,” he said.

“We need to address these issues and we need to do it now. We can start by saving our waters, most — not all — of it contaminated by people. Only people can stop it,” he warned.

Listen to Kevin McAllister, who is trying to drain the swamp.

denishamill@gmail.com