Governor Cuomo Launches Initiative to Improve Water Quality and Resiliency on Long Island

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Intensive Review with Community Stakeholders of Long Island Wastewater Management and Clean Water Infrastructure Public Meetings to Be Held to Obtain Input on Solutions.

Albany, NY - April 23, 2014 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that New York will undertake an intensive and collaborative review of clean water needs in Nassau and Suffolk counties to increase resiliency against future storms, improve water quality and provide additional protections for Long Island’s groundwater resources. This review will be undertaken in a series of meetings in conjunction with Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and with additional participation from federal officials and key community, business and environmental stakeholders. Following the review, recommendations will be provided to the Governor for immediate action.

“We need innovative solutions for protecting and improving Long Island’s water resources that will last for generations,” Governor Cuomo said. “Working with the community, environmental stakeholders and our local officials, we will identify the new challenges we face with increasing extreme weather events and examine the best advances for dealing with groundwater and surface water pollution. I am proud to have County Executive Bellone and County Executive Mangano joining with us to address these issues and look forward to our partnership in the weeks ahead.”

"I am happy to collaborate with Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Martens to find solutions to ensure Long Island’s water resources are protected and to make Nassau County more resilient to future storms. Addressing wastewater issues will help ensure our surface and ground waters are cleaner for generations to come and look forward to engaging with the state on this issue," said County Executive Mangano.

“Governor Cuomo’s plan to engage scientists, experts and the public to find solutions for Long Island’s wastewater problems is a welcome partnership and complement to Suffolk County’s efforts to reclaim our water. Suffolk County residents care about our drinking water and improving the resiliency of our coastal communities. I look forward to continuing to work with our state partners in this critical area,” said County Executive Bellone.

“I have spent my career working on issues that will preserve and enhance water quality on Long Island. I applaud the Governor for his interest and welcome his commitment to join with us in ensuring that Long Island will have a clear, pristine water supply for future generations,” said Senator Ken LaValle

“I am pleased Governor Cuomo is focusing on Long Island water quality. This effort builds on funding added to the Environmental Protection Fund this year, which will be matched by Suffolk County. The funds will be used to take steps to address nitrogen sources that are impairing our water quality. I look forward to participating in this review and to working cooperatively in implementing solutions to protect our precious water resources,” said Assemblymember Robert Sweeney.

“Water quality protection has emerged as the major environmental and economic challenge facing our region, but it is also presents an interesting opportunity to foster innovative problem solving which Governor Cuomo clearly recognizes. New York State has the talent and resources to become a leader in developing water protection and restoration technology, creating the ability to address a pressing regional issue in a collaborative fashion while seeding a powerful new industry with global demand,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.

As part of actions related to cleaning up the environment on Earth Day, Governor Cuomo directed New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens to establish an open, process that seeks input from experts and citizens on an effective plan of action to bolster natural coastal protections, dramatically improve water quality and make the best case possible for enhanced federal funding.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens will lead four public meetings in May and June with County Executive Ed Mangano in Nassau and County Executive Steve Bellone in Suffolk. At the meetings, officials will hear from the leading scientific and environmental experts to identify problems and to discuss strategies to protect Long Island’s coastal and ground waters from pollution, including nitrogen which significantly degrades the marshlands that serve as a second coastal line of defense to barrier island dunes.

The meetings are tentatively scheduled as follows:

  • The first meeting will be held on May 12 in Nassau County and will consist of presentations from leading environmental and other stakeholders to identify problems related to wastewater infrastructure and to explore solutions for reducing high levels of nitrogen in the back-bay area north of Long Beach Island.
  • The second meeting will be held on May 19 at SUNY Stony Brook to hear from a panel of leading experts on wastewater and septic solutions.
  • The third meeting will be held on May 28, during which time state officials will tour Suffolk County facilities and meet with local officials and environmental groups to identify problems related to inadequate wastewater treatment and to explore solutions to the high levels of nitrogen in the Great South Bay and other south shore bays. The public will be invited to submit comments during this meeting.

Based on what is learned and discussed at the first three meetings, the final meeting in early June will feature recommendations to the Governor on how to address wastewater and septic problems to make Long Island more resilient.

New York State is working closely with local, regional and federal partners on action plans that expand and improve wastewater treatment, especially at the Bay Park and Bergen Point facilities. Investments to upgrade wastewater treatment systems, as well as improved collection and treatment systems for the numerous substandard septic and cesspool systems, will provide the improved water quality which is fundamental to healthy barrier marshland systems.

On February 11, 2014, Governor Cuomo announced that New York had secured an agreement with the federal government to provide $810 million in federal funds to repair and upgrade the Bay Park plant and collection system. The Governor also requested federal funds to construct an ocean outfall pipe leading from the plant well out into the Atlantic Ocean to improve water quality in the back-bay and protect extensive marsh islands in that area are natural flood protection barriers. In October 2013, Governor Cuomo announced the State will provide $242 million for the Bergen Point Wastewater Treatment Facility in Suffolk County through EFC that will be repaid from various federal sources.

Long Island’s sole source aquifer serves as the water supply for 2.5 million New Yorkers. DEC and Suffolk County, in conjunction with the Town of Southampton and SUNY Stony Brook, are actively developing and implementing a $6 million plan to implement nitrogen treatment pilot projects at individual homes or small subdivisions that are not readily reachable by sewer lines. This plan will include a research program on methods to improve the effectiveness of nitrogen treatment systems, reduce their cost and footprint, and simplify operation and maintenance. Some 70 percent of homes and businesses in Suffolk County are not served by sewers. The State and County are also exploring financing options for septic system replacements and retrofits.

“Investments to protect our environment are vital to the quality of life in communities across Long Island, and we want to work with local officials, environmental groups, economic organizations and others to identify, prioritize and implement the right projects as well as to maximize federal, state and local resources for these projects,” Commissioner Martens said. “Nitrogen is a serious water quality impairment that is also operating to fundamentally undermine Long Island’s natural coastal resiliency. Under Governor Cuomo’s direction, these meetings will be an important step to build a plan that will address longstanding wastewater issues in Nassau and Suffolk counties.”

“New York State has already started working with county officials on an action plan to identify projects to improve the resiliency and effectiveness of Long Island’s water-quality infrastructure,” said Matthew Driscoll, president and CEO of the New York State Environmental Facilities Corp., which provides low-cost financing options for local governments. “Through these public hearings, Gov. Cuomo will be marshalling the expertise of Long Island’s top environmental and public finance experts, along with expert water-quality researchers, to assist New York State and Long Island leaders in developing short- and long-range solutions to Long Island’s wastewater and public health needs.”

"The Nature Conservancy thanks Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Martens for their leadership to improve and protect water quality for all communities on Long Island", said Nancy Kelley, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy's Long Island program. "Improving water quality is critical to ensuring our public health, environment and economy. The stakeholder process announced today will build on important work done by Suffolk and Nassau Counties and town governments, as well as New York State's initial commitment of $3 million for Suffolk County water quality improvement projects in this year's Environmental Protection Fund. We look forward to working with local, state and federal officials, environmental organizations and scientists to ensure that policies to improve water quality are enacted and funding is enhanced to ensure the health of our beaches, bays and drinking water.”

Jim Tripp, Senior Counsel, Environmental Defense Fund said, “I welcome Governor Cuomo’s engagement on this important topic and support DEC’s investigation and solicitation of input from scientists and others to address the Long Island’s coastal and groundwater problems. In addition to structural options, development of cost-effective options including better protection of wetlands and good land use controls are important steps for moving forward.”

“Clean Water provides the backbone and the heart of our Long Island life. To address the critical problems facing our drinking and coastal waters, we need state leadership. All levels of government must be engaged and involved. The first step in solving the problem is identifying our needs. Governor Cuomo’s leadership and initiative on this issue is gravely needed and truly welcomed. We are delighted by this announcement,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

“On behalf of Stony Brook University, we welcome this timely initiative spearheaded by Governor Cuomo and the DEC to examine Long Island's clean water needs. Our Marine Science researchers are at the forefront of this issue and will be eager to contribute to the discussion and do the work that will improve our aquatic ecosystem and protect the water quality on Long Island for current residents and for generations to come,” said Samuel L. Stanley Jr., President of Stony Brook University.

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