Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has announced the release of a long-awaited feasibility study and implementation plan to guide the establishment of a Countywide Wastewater Management District
The Wastewater Management District would facilitate the expansion of advanced wastewater infrastructure to replace 360,000 failing cesspools and septic systems, as recommended in the County’s Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan.
The study was funded by a grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Long Island Regional Planning Council. Establishment of the district has been designated an “early action” item under the Long island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP).
“The completion of this study is an important next step in the ongoing effort to implement a long-term plan to address the lack of wastewater infrastructure that has harmed water quality and been a long-term drag on our economy for decades,” said County Executive Bellone.“Creation of the District will provide the administrative structure needed to facilitate an historic investment in wastewater infrastructure that will help to fuel the local economy, create thousands of jobs and allow for new investments in our downtown business districts.”
The Countywide Wastewater Management District will, in a phased approach:
Create the administrative structure required to implement the County’s new long term water quality plan (Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan)
Provide new benefits for homeowners through expanded financial assistance, better program management, and periodic inspection of septic systems
Serve as vehicle for new investments in water quality infrastructure to make system upgrades and sewer connections affordable for homeowners
Spur local job growth to help fuel the post-COIVD economic recovery through establishment of a stable and recurring revenue stream to fund advanced wastewater treatment
Provide prescriptive advantages of a district for on-site installations comparable to those extended to sewer connections
Provide for greater equity in sewer charges by equalizing rates among individual sewer districts;
As the next step in the process, a Task Force composed of environmental, civic, and business leaders will work to develop an implementation strategy and timeline for the proposed District.
The lack of wastewater treatment throughout most of the County has led to continued reliance on 360,000 cesspools and septic systems that are a primary source of nitrogen pollution in local waterways and has restricted the allowable uses of commercial properties in downtown business districts.
The County has established a landmark grant program to make replacement of cesspools and septic systems with new nitrogen reducing technologies affordable for homeowners who choose to upgrade their systems. The County program, established in 2017 and funded initially with water quality funding approved by County voters, was also awarded $10 million in state funding under the New York State Septic System Replacement Program.
The County’s Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan, completed in 2019, calls for the investment of $4 billion over 50 years for the installation of nitrogen reducing septic systems in areas where sewers are not considered a cost-effective wastewater management option and to connect as many as 41,000 parcels to sewers.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “New York State is committed to protecting and improving water quality on Long Island by working with Suffolk County and all of our state and local partners to help improve aging septic systems. DEC applauds the release of the detailed study concerning the potential creation of a Countywide Wastewater Management District as a critical step toward modernizing Suffolk County’s wastewater infrastructure to achieve the long-term nitrogen reduction goals, thus protecting the region’s environment, bolstering the region’s economy, and improving overall quality of life.”
John D. Cameron, Jr., Chair of the Long Island Regional Planning Council said, “The Long Island Regional Planning Council salutes Suffolk County on the quality of its recently completed Countywide Wastewater Management District study. The study, which was commissioned and funded by LIRPC, not only addressed the critical issue of water quality impairment in the County principally attributable to nitrogen pollution but also addressed the inequity in the costs of wastewater management that exists in the myriad sewer districts in the County. A comprehensive solution to the County’s public health, environmental and economic challenges surrounding wastewater disposal for the County’s 1.5 million residents and its associated businesses and institutions cannot be cost-effectively addressed unless done so on a Countywide basis. LIRPC stands ready to work together with County leadership and staff as it embarks upon this critical initiative.”
John R. Durso, President of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO said, “Our labor movement has worked in partnership with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, the environmental movement, communities, and good employers throughout the region to advance the Suffolk County Subwatershed Waste Water Management Plan from its inception. The thoughtful, deliberative, and collaborative process laid out by Suffolk County’s phased in approach to establishing a Countywide Wastewater Management District is one we support.”
Durso continued, “Working families are the first to fall victim when there is a failure of leadership to address environmental challenges and the dangerous reality of climate change. Guaranteeing the availability of clean drinking water and maintaining the viability of our coastlines must always remain leading social priorities. The Suffolk County Subwatershed Waste Water Management Plan gives our region a necessary tool to respond to the climate crisis. The plans phased in approach establishing a Countywide Wastewater Management District ensures our union movement, civic leaders, and businesses as well as all other stakeholders have an opportunity to shape our future in a positive way.”
Mitchell H. Pally, Chief Executive Officer of the Long Island Builders Institute said, “LIBI is very pleased to participate in the discussions and consideration of this most important proposal. It is absolutely necessary for all of us to determine together how this proposal can help promote our environment as well as encourage new economic development opportunities.”
Marc Herbst, Executive Director of the Long Island Contractors’ Association said, “The release of County’s Wastewater Management District study and implementation plan is a great and necessary first towards modernizing our waste water infrastructure. This plan lays out a roadmap to the future, implementing long term water quality plans, supporting local job growth, expanding brand new investments in water quality, and providing financial assistance to homeowners. This is exactly the type of project we need to see replicated all over Long Island, and I’ll be first in line to campaign for the cause and work to put this plan into action.”
Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment said, “We are in dire need to advance waste water treatment technology and infrastructure in Suffolk County. Suffolk County has developed a holistic, aggressive and forward thinking plan to treat wastewater, and protect our drinking and coastal water resources. The Task Force will work to implement the next phase of that critical plan. We are delighted and thankful that County Executive Bellone understands that treating our waste water cannot be placed on the back burner and progress needs to continue.”
Rob Carpenter, Administrative Director of the Long Island Farm Bureau said, “The Suffolk County farming community recognizes that our land and water resources are essential to our way of life and growing the food and fiber necessary to feed our residents. Farmers have been great stewards of the land they live and work on and the water they use to irrigate their crops as many have farmed on the same land for multiple generations. This study and recommendations will help to achieve fair and balanced solutions for feasible ways to improve our water resources for future generations of Long Islanders.”
Kevin McDonald, Conservation Policy Advisor for The Nature Conservancy’s Long Island Chapter said, “The Nature Conservancy commends Suffolk County and the Long Island Regional Planning Council for commissioning this study, which identifies strategies to address Suffolk’s water quality problems and funding to implement those strategies. Scientific evidence shows that nitrogen pollution from antiquated septic systems and sewage is the leading cause of harmful algal blooms and fish kills in our area and that this nitrogen pollution endangers our economy, our health, and our Long Island way of life. The report’s recommendations will not only solve our water quality problems, they will also create good-paying jobs here in Suffolk County and help us tackle climate change. Now is the time for public officials to adopt the report’s recommendations so we can restore clean water for our children and grandchildren.”
Creation of the District has been identified as an “early action” initiative under the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) being managed jointly by the DEC and the Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRPC), which provided a grant to fund the feasibility study. Establishment of the District’s administrative structure is a necessary precursor to implementation of the County’s landmark Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan.
The feasibility study was completed in a collaborative and inclusive process that included involvement of the Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRPC), the Long Island Board of Realtors, the Long Island Builders Institute (LIBI), the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and other stakeholders.