Comp Plan Identifies Nitrogen, VOCs and Pesticides as Leading Culprits in Declining Water Quality; Provides Critical Recommendations for Region
SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY – (May 14, 2015) – Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone recently announced the release of the 2015 Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan (“Comp Plan”). The Comp Plan, which was conducted by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and the Department of Economic Development and Planning and partially funded by the Suffolk County Water Authority, addresses numerous factors affecting the region’s water quality, analyzes groundwater and surface water trends, and provides critical recommendations on how to manage and protect the County’s water supply and resources.
“Last year I identified water quality as my administration’s highest priority,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “In the past year, we have taken significant steps to improve Suffolk’s water quality – more than this county has seen over the previous four decades.
Along with the release of this action plan, we will continue to build on the tremendous progress we have already made and will work every single day to ensure that Suffolk County reclaims its water.”
The Comp Plan identifies increasing levels of nitrogen, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and excessive application of pesticides and fertilizers as the three principle contributors impacting Suffolk County’s water quality.
The Comp Plan indicates that all major estuaries in the County (Long Island Sound, Peconic Estuary Program and South Shore Estuary Reserve) are currently impaired due to nitrogen loading compounded by low dissolved oxygen. Harmful algal blooms have proliferated, wetlands have degraded by one-third and ninety percent of the eelgrass has disappeared. This has resulted in the decimation of the shellfish industry, and serious undermining of coastal resiliency – the region’s second line of defense against storm surges and rising sea levels.
The Comp Plan additionally highlights that seventy four percent of Suffolk County is unsewered, and more than 252,000 existing septic systems pre-date the permitting requirements for septic tanks. Unmaintained and faulty septic systems and cesspools cause excess nitrogen to seep into the ground, and is the leading contributor of nitrogen pollution throughout the County.
“Nitrogen pollution from sewage threatens Long Island’s health, economy and quality of life and we have to fix it now,” said Kevin McDonald, Conservation Finance and Policy Director for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. "We applaud Executive Bellone for his leadership in addressing this issue right away. We look forward to working with innovators from the business, community and government sectors to clean up our waters and protect our way of life for generations to come."
Last year, the County’s Department of Health Services and the Department of Economic Development and Planning, along with the state Environmental Facilities Corporation, Environmental Protection Agency and The Nature Conservancy, embarked on a septic tour throughout several states to research what municipalities were doing to address similar nitrogen pollution concerns. As a result of the tour, Suffolk County launched a single-family homeowner septic demonstration pilot program where 19 residents were awarded on-site advanced wastewater treatment systems with free installation, monitoring and maintenance for five years.
The Comp Plan establishes the first comprehensive strategic framework for wastewater management through sewer integration, innovative and alternative individual on-site wastewater treatment systems and decentralized clustered systems.
The Comp Plan also highlights the need to continue to fund sewer feasibility studies and advanced sewering initiatives. In the last year, the County has worked with state and federal officials to secure more than $383 million in funds for wastewater infrastructure – the largest allocation in decades.
In addition, the Comp Plan emphasizes the importance of implementing a VOC Action Plan to underscore the need for continued inspection of gas stations and dry cleaners as well as to evaluate the impacts of various other contributing sources, including household cleaners, in an effort to reduce the levels of volatile organic compounds within our waterways.
The action plan also suggests that the County continue to expand education and public outreach programs to increase awareness of various issues, such as the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers by homeowners, the negative impact of improper disposal of personal care products and pharmaceuticals.
For more information on Suffolk County’s Reclaim Our Water initiative, for the full report of the comp plan, visit www.suffolkcountyny.gov or www.facebook.com/stevebellone.