SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY – (April 25, 2016) – Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was joined by a bipartisan collection of elected officials, environmental activists and civic leaders to support a plan to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution of drinking and surface waters. County Executive Bellone called for allowing Suffolk County residents to have the opportunity to vote this November via referendum to establish a dedicated funding source to expedite implementation of water quality goals for Suffolk County.
Governor Cuomo has led on a number of water quality initiatives, providing record levels of investment. This fund would supplement the State’s efforts, be the cornerstone of implementing the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, build on the Governor’s $383 million investment in expanding sewers in Suffolk and allow the marketplace to leverage the innovations and new technologies emerging from the Center for Clean Water Technology.
“This referendum would literally turn the tide on Suffolk County water quality crisis,” County Executive Bellone said. “Governor Cuomo has made water quality a top issue in this State establishing the Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University, funding the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan and securing $383 million in water quality infrastructure dollars for Suffolk County. This new initiative to create a recurring revenue source for clean water infrastructure will help implement the Governor's water quality goals here in Suffolk County.”
In addition to New York State's pioneering work on this issue, establishment of a countywide district and stable revenue source to fund wastewater improvements to reduce nitrogen are key recommendations of the Suffolk County Water Resources Management Plan issued in March, 2015 and a report issued by IBM as part of its Smarter Cities Challenge Program.
Unlike Nassau County, where almost 90 percent of the population benefits from active wastewater treatment through connection to sewer plants, most of Suffolk County’s wastewater treatment relies on more than 360,000 individual cesspools and septic systems. These systems do not effectively treat wastewater, and release nitrogen into ground and surface water. Suffolk County has more unsewered homes than the State of New Jersey.
Over the past decade, scientific evidence has pointed to a growing recognition that nitrogen pollution is a primary source of pollution to surface waters, leading to closure of shellfish beds, algal blooms, beach closures, and fish die-offs. A recent report showed that nitrogen concentrations in one aquifer rose by 40 percent between 1987 and 2013, while levels in the deeper Magothy aquifer rose by 80 percent during that time span.
Moving away from the use of cesspools and septic systems to new, state-of-the-art treatment systems which remove nitrogen pollution is a key recommendation in the County’s Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan. Over the past year, the County has facilitated pilot testing of six different technologies at homes throughout the county as the first step towards certifying innovative alternative (IA) systems for use in the County.
The proposed referendum would create a Water Quality Protection Fee on water use to help fund the conversion of homes to active treatment systems. A surcharge of just $1 per 1,000 gallons of water used would generate nearly $75 million in annual revenue to reduce nitrogen pollution by connecting thousands of homes to active treatment systems each year. And more importantly, Suffolk County residents would still pay 40% less than the national average of $5.25 per 1,000 gallons, and far less than water rates in Nassau County. The Water Quality Protection Fee model is also used in Spokane, Washington, which, like Long Island, gets its drinking water from an underground aquifer.
Through the Water Quality Improvement District, officials would advance three different types of wastewater projects depending on local needs: sewage treatment in areas where connection to a sewer plant is an option, smaller cluster systems for individual communities where feasible, and individual active treatment systems.
The Water Quality Protection Fee would fund a Water Quality Improvement Fund which, by law, could only be used for wastewater improvements. An Advisory Committee, including local officials, community and environmental leaders, would make recommendations annually to the County Executive and County Legislature regarding projects to be advanced.
To ensure that uses of the funding are consistent with Town and Village land use goals and objectives, use of Fund proceeds would be conditioned on a review of wastewater projects proposed for funding to ensure consistency with Town and Village land use and wastewater plans. A portion of Fund revenues would be designated and made available for Town and Village governments to offset the cost of improvements or connections to Town and Village sewage treatment plants.
Statements of Support:
New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr.: “Suffolk County is facing a water quality crisis. Fish kills, toxic algal blooms and unproductive coastal bays are plaguing us and taking a toll on our environmental and economic health. We need a comprehensive regional approach to improve the quality of our ground and surface waters, and the only way to do so is to take bold, unprecedented actions like those being proposed by Suffolk County. Not coincidently, the East End Towns are poised to vote on extending their Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund this Fall through 2050, adding in a new 20 percent water quality provision. It is this kind of collaboration that will put us on the path to restoring our waters.”
New York State Senator Tom Croci: “We must have sewer expansion for our downtown areas, for our manufacturing sector in order to keep those jobs and our families on Long Island. Upgraded septic systems for private homes protects our groundwater and saves the Great South Bay and its natural beauty. In order to promote future economic growth and job creation, the time to act has arrived. The public should fully participate and shape the decision-making process to ensure we retain the character of our communities.”
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine: “I applaud County Executive Bellone for his leadership in advancing this plan to restore water quality across this County, and, more importantly, for proposing that the people of Suffolk decide whether the plan should be implemented. Though some may disagree with it, no other elected official has offered a plan to reverse nitrogen pollution on this scale.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman: “We live on an island that sits atop an aquifer. Every day we impact the water around us and beneath us. We have a responsibility to future generations that our water remains drinkable and our bays support marine life. Changing course is never easy, but it must be done. I applaud County Executive Bellone for his bold action on water quality and for including the voters in choosing a better course for Suffolk's future.”
John Cameron, Chairman, Long Island Regional Planning Council: “The Long Island Regional Planning Council salutes the leadership and vision of Suffolk County in advancing its Countywide Water Quality Improvement District. The County's initiative will enable the County to effectively address the pernicious problem of Nitrogen pollution of our ground and surface waters. The County has recognized the fact that Nitrogen pollution knows no municipal boundaries and needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner with cost-effective and proven technological solutions. The nascent Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan co-chaired by the NYSDEC and LIRPC will be able to have its recommendations more expeditiously implemented with the creation of this Countywide District. This bold County initiative will have long-lasting environmental and economic benefits for all County residents for generations to come.”
Marcia Bystryn, President, New York League of Conservation Voters: "Nitrogen overload is on nearly everyone's mind across Long Island and identifying financing mechanisms to replace failing septic systems is a top priority of NYLCV," said "This fund and the creation of a countywide Water Quality Improvement District would accomplish just that. We're proud to stand with this bipartisan coalition today and applaud County Executive Bellone for his leadership.”
Nancy Kelley, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy on Long Island: “Nitrogen pollution from sewage is the biggest threat to Long Island’s environment and quality of life. We applaud County Executive Bellone’s bold leadership to help solve the problem through the establishment of a county-wide water quality protection district. This new funding, once approved by voters in November, will become a cornerstone for the implementation of the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan and help restore and protect Long Island’s water resources for our children and grandchildren.”
Marc Herbst, Executive Director, Long Island Contractors Association: “This initiative is not just about funding some arcane infrastructure. It is about the future of our environment; whether we can protect our ground water and address the slow motion crisis of nitrogen pollution harming our bays. It is about building a waste water treatment system that ensures the environmental integrity of our county, the underlying foundation of our economy and the value of our homes. The Long Island Contractors’ Association supports this proposal because if we don’t take this step we are putting our collective future at serious risk. It is as simple, and crucial, as that.”
Mitchell H. Pally, Chief Executive Officer, Long Island Builders Institute: “The Long Island Builders Institute strongly supports this initiative to create a comprehensive financing plan to allow for the significant reduction of nitrogen pollution in our water. We look forward to working with everyone to promote this very important program which will allow for all areas of Suffolk County to be protected.”
Desmond Ryan, Executive Director, Association for a Better Long Island: “Striking that balance between environmental protection and comprehensive economic development will only assist in making Suffolk County a great place to do business.”