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

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