Scientists, public officials, environmental advocates, and others, about 180 people, gathered at the Radisson Hotel in Hauppauge on November 19, to discuss the effort to restore Long Island’s water quality. The Long Island Clean Water Partnership assembled experts on the subject to discuss progress to date and immediate actions necessary in the coming year.
Long Island’s drinking and surface waters are being contaminated by nitrogen pollution from individual cesspools and septic tanks, as well as from fertilizer use on lawns and farms. Excess nitrogen pollution has led to the proliferation of harmful algae blooms, killing marine life and closing shellfish beds and beaches. Experts from Stony Brook University, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Suffolk County were on hand to discuss the effort to reduce nitrogen in our waters.
And that, of course, was the big question on everyone’s minds, according to Katie Muether Brown, deputy director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.
“We know that nitrogen pollution from individual septic systems and cesspools is deteriorating our drinking and surface water quality,” she stated. “We know there are solutions — new septic systems that remove nitrogen. Next, we need to figure out a way to finance the replacement of 360,000 septic systems across Suffolk County. This cost should not fall on the homeowner alone,” she continued. “We need to create a dedicated recurring revenue stream to provide grants and low-cost loans to homeowners that wish to replace their old systems with new nitrogen-removing technology.”
Toxic chemicals, called “emerging contaminants,” are also being detected in local water supplies. Representatives from the Suffolk County Water Authority and Citizens Campaign for the Environment discussed new efforts to combat these chemicals. Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini was also present to speak about his investigation into illegal dumping and sand mining. Experts from the United States Geological Survey and Suez Water gave presentations on water quality issues and water conservation.
“Suffolk County has released its Subwatershed Wastewater Plan, which measures current nitrogen loads in our waters and determines the amount needed to be removed to recover our ecosystems,” said Brown. “Nassau County is following suit.”
But those “‘emerging contaminants’ such as 1,4-dioxane and PFOS/PFAS are becoming of increasing concern,” she continued. “New state legislation allows water providers to hold polluters accountable and extended the statute of limitations for providers to sue contaminators for pollution clean-up costs.” She pointed to saltwater intrusion, which is being found in certain areas of Nassau County already.
“The next step for the coming year is work with state and county government to set up a recurring revenue stream,” she said. “And we need Governor Cuomo to sign the bill that bans 1,4-dioxane from our personal care products this year.”