Suffolk County Government Crest

Suffolk County Stormwater Management Program

Edward P. Romaine, County Executive

Department of Public Works

Department of Economic Development and Planning

What is nitrogen and why is it a problem?

Nitrogen is required by all organisms to perform the basic life processes of making proteins, growing, and reproducing. Nitrogen occurs in many chemical forms. Inorganic forms include nitrate (NO3), nitrite (NO2), ammonia (NH3), and nitrogen gas (N2). Typically, nitrogen is in short supply in waterbodies. However, population growth and urbanization has increased nutrient levels way beyond naturally occuring levels. Excessive concentrations of nitrogen can lead to significant water quality problems including harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and declines in wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Where does nitrogen come from?

Nitrogen comes from many sources, both natural and as a result of human activities. Nitrogen enters water natuarally from diffusion from the atmosphere and photosynthesis by aquatic plants. Generally, nitrogen from human activity originates from fertilizer loss from turf grass maintenance and agricultural crops; human waste, and animal waste. It makes its way into waterbodies through groundwater, stormwater runoff, failing and functioning septic systems, and wastewater treatment plants.

What can I do to reduce the chance that nitrogen will reach my local waterbody?

  • Use fertilizers sparingly or not at all. If you do use fertilizer, buy slow release (at least 30% slow release), follow the manufactuer's instructions, and never apply before a forecasted rain event.
  • Use native vegetation in your garden and landscape. Native vegetation does not require the use of fertilizer or watering, once established.
  • Maintain a buffer strip of unmowed natural vegeation bordering all waterbodies.
  • Install a rain garden to capture and infiltrate stormwater running off your property.
  • Always pick up after your pet. Dispose of pet waste in the trash. Pet waste left on the ground will eventually be washed into a storm drain and into a local waterbody.
  • Do not feed wildlife. This includes ducks and geese at your local park. Providing food may encourage wildlife to become dependent on handouts that are not part of their natural diet and cause the animals to congregate in high numbers. When animals congregate in high numbers a lot of waste is produced that is either directly added to the waterbody or washed into the waterbody.
  • Inspect your septic system every 3 years and pump your tank as necessary. It is recommended that you pump your tank every 3 to 5 years.