Hauppauge, NY (August 10, 2016) – Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed key legislation today that amends the Suffolk County Sanitary Code and allows the Department of Health Services to monitor new sewage treatment technologies in the 39 homes that were awarded a free wastewater treatment system as part of the County’s Septic Demonstration Pilot Program. Article 19, “Management of Innovative and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (I/A OWSTS),” was unanimously approved by the Suffolk County Legislature on July 26, 2016.
“The signing of this bill signifies our strong and continued commitment to cleaning up our region’s water,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “Since we launched this initiative more than two years ago, we have worked diligently with our leaders in government, environmental advocates, wastewater industry experts and our residents to come with up with viable solutions and reach milestones that haven’t been attained in more than four decades. Today is another important step in reclaiming our water as this amendment to the sanitary code will work to reduce the excess levels of nitrogen that is currently in our ground and surface waters.”
“It is commonly asked, ‘When will our government get with the times?,” said Legislator Kara Hahn, Chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture committee. “Now, without, hesitation, everyone is Suffolk County can emphatically say ‘today’ as this government adopts a policy that allows the latest advancements in wastewater treatment technologies to be used in the critical fight against nitrogen pollution.”
“I want to thank the County Executive for having the foresight and determination in making innovative alternative onsite wastewater treatment systems for use and for working with all stakeholders through the process,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski.
Article 19 will grant the Suffolk County Department of Health Services the authority to formulate procedures and protocols in order to approve the use of wastewater treatment systems throughout the county. The amendment will also establish procedures to ensure that the alternative wastewater treatment systems will function in the long-term and to monitor its effects on the environment.
The technologies may then be approved for more widespread use once successfully piloted. County experts project that the first systems may authorized for provisional unrestricted use by the end of the year.
“Protecting our groundwater is of utmost importance here on Long Island, it is our only source of drinking water, and I am optimistic that these new waste water treatment systems will keep our aquifer pure,” said Legislator Leslie Kennedy. “My hope is that once these systems are used on a larger scale they will become more affordable for the average consumer, and the large scale usage will benefit our aquifer.”
“The amendment to the Suffolk County Sanitary Code is a significant step forward toward preserving our precious aquifer and local water bodies,” said Legislator Sarah Anker. “On Long Island, especially in Suffolk County, water is an economic driver that attracts tourism and serves as a source of income for many fishermen and farmers. It is important that we do everything in our power to limit toxins, especially high concentrations of nitrogen, which can have negative effects on our drinking water and coastal ecosystems. Instead of putting our heads in the sand, we are putting new technology in the ground to protect our water.”
“I applaud County Executive Bellone, the Health Department and all the members of the legislature for accomplishing this important step,” said Legislator Bridget Fleming. “I am particularly grateful that the drafters welcomed the participation of planners, engineers and municipal attorneys from the East End who worked with County staff to ensure that our efforts to protect and repair our waterways will not result in overdevelopment on the East End.”
Since the launch of the Suffolk County Septic Demonstration Pilot Program in 2014, more than 330 Suffolk County homeowners have entered the two lotteries and 39 homeowners have received a free system – which includes free installation, monitoring and maintenance for five years.
“This system has operated the way experts said it would, there have been no mechanical or quality of life issues. It has really performed beyond my expectations,” said Jim Minet, Nesconset resident and Suffolk County Septic Demonstration Pilot Program participant. “ In addition, we’ve have technicians here monitoring the system that would show me the water going in a glass vile and water coming out, and it went from black to white – clear as a bell. It really is impressive. This is for our future. I grew up on Long Island, and the water when I was a kid was pristine. We all know about the algae blooms every year that have been occurring and we didn’t have that when I was young, so I think the systems so far has been perfect. I would assure any Suffolk county residents moving forward that this is a pretty good idea.”
The bill is part of Suffolk County’s Reclaim Our Water initiative, a comprehensive plan to improve the region’s water quality by reducing nitrogen pollution through the implementation of advanced on-site wastewater treatment systems and means of sewering in targeted areas. Suffolk County has more than 360,000 individual cesspools and septic systems – more than the entire state of New Jersey.
“I want to thank County Executive Bellone and the Suffolk County legislators for their leadership that they have demonstrated on this issue,” said Kevin MacDonald from The Nature Conservancy. “This success has been a culmination of a conversation that began years ago about the need to address this water quality issue. What we have to do is change out the technology that has caused the problem by addressing the problem with advanced systems and technology.”
Suffolk County, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRPC) and Nassau County are working in partnership with stakeholders to develop the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) to reduce the level of nitrogen in the surface and ground waters around Long Island. On-site wastewater disposal from individual residents has been identified as the single largest contribution to the levels of nitrogen in Long Island waters and solutions need to be identified. Excess nitrogen has resulted in hypoxia and harmful algal blooms in our estuaries, and has impaired eelgrass beds, wetlands, and shellfisheries, and diminished our coastal resiliency. Innovative/alternative onsite sewage disposal systems is the means of addressing wastewater nitrogen discharging from residential lots that do not have access to community sewers.
To help with this priority issue, the State allocated $5.5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund over the past three years. This funding supports the Suffolk County Septic/Cesspool Upgrade Program (SCUPE). Through SCUPE, Suffolk County will evaluate the types of systems that reduce nitrogen discharges from on-site wastewater treatment systems.