Nitrogen Pollution on Long Island

June 23, 2015

Excess levels of nitrogen plaguing Long Island waterways has resulted in several mass fish kills, shellfish losses, harmful algal blooms, wetlands destruction, and more. Earlier this week, NYLCVEF hosted a forum at Stony Brook University to discuss this issue that has been over 45 years in the making. Scientists, politicians, and environmentalists gathered to explore and tackle the two main challenges of this nitrogen crisis: technology and finances.

Panelists Walter Dawydiak of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, Amanda Ludlow of Roux Associates, Theresa McGovern of VHB, and Professor Harold Walker of Stony Brook University identified poorly treated septic system waste as the main culprit of the nitrogen crisis. Approximately 70% of wastewater systems in Suffolk County rely on septic systems or cesspools that leach wastewater containing high levels of nitrate into the ground, or remain unsewered, which means that on-site treatment is not meeting clean water requirements.

The problem of leaching is technologically difficult and expensive to fix, which led the panelists to explore the technical aspects of new sewage systems. The panelists discussed the implementation of advanced septic systems throughout the county as a pilot project. The main problem of these upgrades is the cost – as much as $30,000 for an individual homeowner. Walker estimated the cost of installing on-site upgraded septic systems throughout the county at $6 billion. He stated a need for better technology that is more effective, more reliable, and more affordable.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, President of Jove Equity Partners and co-chair of Suffolk Planning Board David Calone, and Director of Sustainability and Chief Recovery Officer for Suffolk County Dorian Dale confronted the issue of funding to implement these upgraded systems in the second panel session. Some of the financial options include doubling the county’s water quality sales tax, extending the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund money to be used for water-quality related projects, bonding, and tax-increment financing. The panelists believe that solving this water quality problem could end up financially benefiting the county and stressed that Long Island has the opportunity to become a front-runner in clean water planning.

This forum was only the beginning, we look forward to continuing our work on Long Island to find potential solutions to this critical water issue.

Click here to download the background paper prepared in advance of this event.

Thanks to Roux Associates for their generous support of this event.

By Breanna Giovanniello

< Back to Policy Forums

Related Articles

We are seeking sponsorships to support an exciting new potential program. With enough support, we will convene key stakeholders for a series of forums in Westchester, the Capital Region, Long Island, Hudson Valley, and Buffalo/Niagara on overcoming the barriers to siting renewable energy in New York. View our sponsorship package here, and please share with others….

This policy forum focused on the economic, social, and environmental benefits of green infrastructure (GI) as an approach to managing stormwater. We brought together expert speakers and panelists to provide an overview of green infrastructure vs. traditional gray approaches and how it can be used to protect and restore water quality in the Delaware River…

In September 2014, Mayor de Blasio announced an aggressive carbon reduction goal for New York City to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. In order to address some of the key topics and major challenges to reaching these goals, NYLCVEF hosted a 4-part forum series this summer to address the…

NYLCVEF educational forums bring together elected officials, environmental leaders, and the general public for discussion on timely environmental policy issues and their solutions.

On February 1st, 2017, the NYLCV Education Fund hosted a forum on the topic of green infrastructure in the Capital Region. The forum featured two panel discussions of policymakers and green infrastructure experts from around the state, including representatives from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, Cornell University’s New York State Water Resources Institute, Albany…

On Tuesday, October 11th, top environmental experts ranging from leaders in academia, policy, green infrastructure, and community-based organizations held a policy forum at the Buffalo History Museum, the focus of the discussion focused on green infrastructure in the Buffalo-Niagara Region.  The forum was held in a two-panel discussion, both with an equal mix of interests…

New York City has made ambitious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 and to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in ten years. Buildings account for roughly 70 percent of our emissions but affordable housing building owners and developers face a number of obstacles and policy challenges to making…

Throughout the fall of 2014, NYLCVEF brought together experts from different industries to discuss three big ways New York City can mitigate flooding, improve green space, and reduce waste. Our Dig Deep for a Greener New York policy forum series focused on Green Infrastructure, Funding an Equitable Park System, and Organic Waste and Composting. On…

Though retrofitting buildings can help to save energy, many homeowners do not know how to go about making their homes more energy efficient and may be concerned about the associated costs. However, ‘greening’ a home can also have the benefit of increasing its market value, once homeowners know where to start. On June 5, 2013,…

Get Involved

THANK YOU TO OUR CORPORATE PARTNERS