Your first question must be “So why MUST we create native habitat in our sumps? Your second question will likely be “what is a sump anyway?”
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Long Island: Land of Sumps
Lets tackle the second question first. A sump is a basin that collects runoff. With all the asphalt and houses that were laid atop of Long Island, all that water needs to go somewhere. One finds them dotting our suburban neighborhoods, since when they were built, so were the sumps.
Sumps were necessary. Where was all the water hitting all those roofs and rolling off those pool table lawns going to go? What of all the road runoff from the new street grid? The more dry land you could keep dry, the better, so these basins were the way to go.
The sumps are strung along our highways as well, since mitigating flooding on our roads is a top priority. The irony is that all this impervious surface caused the flooding in the first place. There they must be, though, surrounded with chain link fence, sometimes stretching for acres.
There are over 800 sumps in Nassau County alone. Suffolk I am told has at least as many. At this point, with some over seventy years old, our sumps have become a mass of invasive plants and insects, and the breeding grounds for swarms of mosquitoes. If the original intent was for them to be recharge basins for the aquifer, they are failing at that. They are now silt and trash filled. They are often blights for every neighborhood one finds them in.
Sumps to Sanctuaries: Planting Rare Trees
Part of the fun of replanting sumps is the fact that you can pick out your favorite natives to place there. Here in the photo below, you can see Atlantic White Cedar saplings. The do well in swampy environments. Most all on Long Island fell to the axe to build homes, ships, furniture. They were once everywhere here.
Restoring Sumps To Bring Back The American Chestnut
Sumps are opportunities to plant American Chestnut Mother Orchards. As part of our role as Co-Directors of the Long Island chapter of The American Chestnut Society, we seek remnant stands of this all but vanished tree so we can participate in a local breeding program. Our goal is to produce several hundred thousand blight resistant trees that are local ecotypes. That would replace what we lost when by some estimates we lost 3 billion of these once essential forest trees along the Eastern Seaboard. All these sumps give us places to plant.
Sumps Can Become Microenvironments
Sumps Should Be Something Else
In doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be. We’ve done it before — brought nature to these neglected places. Back in 2021, with SMPIL Consulting and Frank Piccininni, we launched The Sump To Sanctuary Program.
Again, there are perhaps 2000 of these sumps. What if we could reintroduce native habitat for our native birds in these places? Most of our birds are endangered. They need this habitat. Moreover, our neighborhoods should not be vectors for invasive plants and animals. Mosquitoes particularly are a major problem in these stagnant pools. What if there was a nature preserve instead of some foetid pool. What if we could enjoy these as green retreats?
Our butterflies and our other pollinators would benefit as we revamp our sumps and convert them into nature preserves. The Long Island Conservancy was selected to Co-Chair Suffolk County’s Pollinator Corridor Taskforce, and we will be looking at these sumps as possible strategic locations for planting the right plants for our local wildlife. It was all inspired by a talk The Long Island Conservancy hosted for Prof. Douglas Tallamy in 2021 while he was on his book tour for Nature’s Best Hope, which argues for building native habitat where ever we can to support local wildlife, particularly in our yards.
Seeking New Sumps To Transform
We are now working on a sump in Manhasset, which we will write up shortly. We are also targeting several more. Do you have a sump you want to make sump-thing out of? Under Mike Bloomberg, the goal was to have a park within a ten minute walk of everybody in the city. Why not in the suburbs as well? We have the land. We just need to resuscitate it.
Sumps Need Stewards
Just contact us here below if there’s a sump that you feel needs adoption. Sumps need our care so that Nature can again flourish here.