A Department of Environmental Conservation permit initially acquired to dredge Lower Lily Lake in Yaphank was surrendered this month by the Town of Brookhaven as part of a binding agreement among the town, Suffolk County and nonprofit environmentalist group Defend H2O.
“While we have this pause in absence of a dredging permit, I'm hoping that the involved agencies — Brookhaven Town and Suffolk County, as the owner of that dam — will talk about a different objective here,” said Kevin McAllister, biologist and found of the Sag Harbor-based nonprofit.
Several invasive plant species are present at the impoundment during summer months, and a drain-and-dredge was initially pursued by the town in order to create access for the removal of the invasives. After obtaining a DEC permit from New York State to dredge Lower Lake, the town placed a halt on the excavation phase of the process in order to explore excavation methods.
However, environmentalist groups on Long Island, led by Defend H2O, expressed significant issue in that the dredging the 23-acre impoundment is a violation of the federal Clean Water Act. This ultimately led to a notice of intent to sue being issued by Defend H2O, citing the Town of Brookhaven as the principal sponsor among three other entities listed.
Town attorney Annette Eaderesto said the town was not planning on making use of the permit anyway.
“We couldn’t act on it because it was causing too much turbidity,” Eaderesto said. “We were not using the permit anyway.”
Turbidity, or suspended sediment in a water body, has the potential to hinder survival for most fish if those levels are considerable. Turbidity readings are taken at three different locations in the Carmans River.
Temperature readings are also taken in the impoundment, which have demonstrated that the impoundment is peaking in the summer near 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
“That is just hot water going down into a cold-water trout stream,” McAllister said, continuing on to say that a relatively stagnant pool, like an impoundment, will heat up and features the characteristics necessary for turbidity levels to increase toward concerning readings.
McAllister and the other groups — including Save the Great South Bay, Trout Unlimited and Seatuck — have continued to express that the removal of Lily Lake Dam is in the best interest of the environment.
“Defend H2O calls on Brookhaven Town and Suffolk County to act as true stewards of this regionally significant resource. Commit wetland recovery by restoring stream flow. The environmental benefits from dam modification are significant,” Defend H2O said in a press release on Jan. 9, following the surrendering of the permit. The press release continues on to list the benefits of dam removal or modification, including wetland recovery, habitat restoration, water quality improvements, fish and wildlife, and climate change resiliency.
The town attorney expressed, however, that dredging Lily Lake remained a goal.
“[The town will] continue to try to find a method that doesn’t [harm] the river. We don’t know if there is a currently a protocol or system, but we are still exploring that,” Eaderesto said, adding that the town intended to hire experts to remove the invasive plant species.
Regarding the surrendering the permit, Eaderesto referenced it as a stipulation of the settlement and overall agreed upon.
Considering that the DEC issued the permit, the agency provided a statement that it would continue to work with the town to find a solution.
“[The DEC] continues to work with the Town of Brookhaven on projects to protect and improve the town’s waterways, including potential methods the town may propose to control aquatic invasive species in Lower Lake in Yaphank,” the statement reads.
McAllister expressed that he was pleased with the agreement.
“Ultimately, this was an agreement. It was voluntary,” McAllister said. “But the permit was surrendered to the DEC. And that is part of what we compelled them to do as part of this agreement.”
Although the notice of intent to sue issued by Defend H2O last July listed four entities, the Town of Brookhaven’s status as the principal sponsor of the drain-and-dredge project at the impoundment deems the town responsible for actions related to this project. Because the theoretical completion of a drain-and-dredge project here requires that a dam be in place, and since Suffolk County owns Lily Lake dam, the county is also brought into the fold of an agreement with Defend H2O.