Our Work / Stewardship

Sagg Pond Watershed

December Update:

We’re excited to announce that, thanks to the generosity of this community and the support of the Southampton Town Board, the preliminary research by Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) has been fully funded!


Check out the latest of our quarterly updates on the restoration of Sagg Pond by watching the video below. Molly Graffam, PhD, and Ronald J. Paulson, PG, of Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Marine provided updates on their ongoing site classification research and outlined exciting new remediation projects being planned for 2022 and beyond. Deborah Aller, PhD, of CCE Agriculture, announced plans for an educational land stewardship project within the Sagg watershed, on the shores of nearby Poxabogue Pond. Trust president John v.H. Halsey moderated the event and offered a history of this multi-year restoration effort.

Thank you to all who attended the last update of 2021! We look forward to seeing you again in March for the next update on this imperative work. 



Based on CCE recommendations, the Trust will launch a significant remediation effort to revitalize the pond in early 2022. More funds are needed to:

  • Invest in remediation methods, like permeable reactive barriers (PRBs), to break down nitrogen and other nutrients before they reach the pond;
  • Educate watershed residents about nitrogen reducing I/A septic systems;
  • Create a demonstration project on 8.3 acres of Town-owned farmland next to Poxabogue Pond, which will include vegetative buffers that curb nutrient-rich surface water runoff and demonstrate regenerative agricultural practices.

Through generous donations to the Sagg Pond Restoration Fund, we can make all of this happen and more! Show your support today!

We are seeking to raise $150,000 by January 31, 2022 to support this effort.

Thank you again to the scientists, students, neighbors, donors, and supporters who have committed so much to the restoration of Sagg Pond! Together, we can ensure the health and vitality of Sagg Pond for generations to come.

About

Like many of our ponds and bays, Sagg Pond has suffered from the effects of excessive nutrient loading from various sources. In 2019, Peconic Land Trust began building a coalition of partners committed to studying the root causes of algae blooms that plague the pond and to finding solutions to improve the resilience of this fragile, and precious, place.

That year, in partnership with the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology and Stony Brook University's Dr. Christopher Gobler, we launched a 4-year project to study the causes of these blue-green algal blooms. The results of this research will help the Southampton Town Trustees prepare a Sagg Pond Revitalization and Management Plan.

The preliminary findings confirmed that an over-abundance of nitrogen and other nutrients in the water leads to harmful algal blooms in Sagg Pond. The likely sources of nitrogen include fertilizers from farms and lawns, aging septic systems, and (to a lesser degree) atmospheric deposition.

In 2021, with the cause of the algae blooms identified, scientists with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s (CCE) Marine program initiated research to pinpoint the locations of nitrogen-rich groundwater seepage into the pond and potential remediation methods to filter out nitrogen before it reaches the pond.

What's New

Over the summer, you may have spotted boats from CCE Marine out on the pond. If so, then you are not alone. Led by Molly Graffam, phD, and Ron Paulson, PG, CCE Marine program staff were conducting site characterization studies along the Trust's Smith Corner Preserve and nearby properties. The water samples they collected allowed them to quantify nitrogen in Sagg Pond and in the groundwater that discharges into the pond along the shoreline.

CCE groundwater team collecting porewater and surface water samples

CCE groundwater team collecting porewater and surface water samples

Molly and Ron in front of the Cornell boat

Molly Graffam, PhD: Water Resource Geochemical Specialist (left) and Ronald J. Paulsen PG: Hydrogeologist/Groundwater Specialist (right)

In addition to quantifying nitrogen levels in the water, site characterization was used to evaluate the soil characteristics of the ground underneath and around Sagg Pond. This required the installation of wells that allow for testing of groundwater conditions and borings to evaluate soil characteristics. Using hydraulic drilling equipment such as a Geoprobe(TM), CCE staff strategically drilled wells with minimal temporary disruptions or disturbances to the property.

What's Next

Once the sources of groundwater seepage have been identified, we will know where to deploy remediation methods that break down nitrogen and other nutrients before they reach the pond.

One method being studied by the CCE team is the use of permeable reactive barriers (PRBs). This sub-surface green infrastructure provides passive remediation, does not require extensive maintenance, and has the potential to remain effective for decades.

PRBs have been used extensively in the Midwest to treat agricultural tile drainage runoff. In nearby Hampton Bays, a PRB installed by CCE behind a bulkhead has successfully reduced nitrogen levels in the mixing zone between groundwater and the sea. The team anticipates that PRBs will be an important tool in limiting excess nitrogen and other nutrients from entering the pond.

The team is also looking at the potential for biochar to increase the effectiveness of PRBs. Produced from solid waste generated on farms, biochar is a carbon-rich material used to improve soil health. Its use, in combination with woodchips, as a filtering media for PRBs would help reduce agricultural waste, enhance soil health, and improve groundwater remediation. With an ancient history and the added benefit of carbon sequestration, biochar presents exciting new opportunities to enhance the sustainability of this project.

Prb graphic

Schematic from Cornell Cooperative Extension of a PRB at the edge of a farm field adjacent to an impaired waterbody.

With proper stewardship, the land itself can be an effective means of limiting nitrogen-rich groundwater from entering the pond. A new initiative involves the Trust, working with CCE, Southampton Town, and the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt to create a demonstration project on 8.3 acres of Town-owned farmland adjacent to Poxabogue Pond.

Located within the Sagg Pond watershed, this proposed demonstration project will showcase vegetative buffers for use on shorelines to curb nutrient-rich surface water runoff into both Poxabogue and Sagg Ponds. In addition, we will demonstrate regenerative agricultural practices that improve soil health and the ability of the land to absorb nitrogen and other nutrients before they enter the groundwater.

By reducing surface water runoff, vegetative buffers will improve the pond’s water quality in more ways than one. In 2019, one of Gobler’s initial research questions was to understand the source of pathogenic bacteria in Sagg Pond. Using microbial source tracking, they found that the major source of fecal contamination came from dogs and small mammals, most likely carried to the pond via surface runoff.

In addition to the use of PRBs, another important tool for limiting nitrogen from entering the pond is to upgrade antiquated septic systems. The Trust will be working with Stony Brook University’s Center for Clean Water Technology to further educate residents within the watershed on replacement of traditional septic systems to I/A systems that will dramatically reduce nitrogen levels in the groundwater.

Resources

You can make a difference. Here’s how.

Small changes in how we care for our lawns, gardens, and houses can make a lasting impact in the health and vitality of this place we call home. Here are just a few ways you can make the Sagg Pond watershed a healthy place to live!

  • Reduce or eliminate chemical inputs into the soil from landscaping
  • Maintain and upgrade your home septic system
  • Share what you learned with your friends and neighbors
  • Support this work with a donation to the Sagg Pond Restoration Fund

Lawn Expert Tuesdays at Bridge Gardens:

From Spring until Fall, the Trust is partnering with Paul Wagner of Greener Pastures Organics who is at Bridge Gardens from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm to offer free advice to homeowners interested in sustainable lawn and landscape care. You can also email LawnExpert@PeconicLandTrust.org and Paul will answer your questions. This program is in partnership with the Perfect Earth Project.

Perfect Earth Project:

Perfect Earth Project promotes toxin-free lawns and landscapes for the health of people, their pets, and the planet. Visit their website for links to resources and information on lawn and landscape care: www.perfectearthproject.org

Peconic Land Trust Connections:

Sign up to receive our Connections email and flyer for upcoming programs, many of which provide information on sustainably managing lands, water quality improvement, growing food, and more. Check out our Lawn and Landscaping Advice page for how to videos along with Zoom programs on planting for a healthier environment.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County:

Check out CCE's Groundwater Program website page for more information on the causes of pollution in our bays and ponds, the impacts, and the various solutions -- including Permeable Reactive Barriers.

Partners

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County:

  • Deborah Aller, PhD: Agricultural Stewardship Specialist (bio)
  • Ronald J. Paulsen PG: Hydrogeologist/Groundwater Specialist (bio)
  • Molly Graffam, PhD: Water Resource Geochemical Specialist (bio)

New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University

  • Christopher Gobler, PhD: Director (bio)
  • Frank M. Russo: Associate Director for Wastewater Initiatives (bio)
  • Stuart Waugh, PhD - Research Scientist (bio)

Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt

new septic system with the house in the background

Photo Credit: PW Grosser

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