More than 70 percent of Suffolk County’s 1.5 million residents lack connections to advanced wastewater treatment infrastructure, relying instead on on-site septic systems. During Superstorm Sandy, many on-site septic systems were flooded by the rising groundwater, which allowed for a direct mix of sanitary wastewater into groundwater and caused solids to wash out of the septic systems. Contaminants entered groundwater and surface waters, causing public health and water quality hazards. The impacts of Superstorm Sandy exacerbated the already rising nitrogen pollution from failing septic and cesspools along river corridors into the Great South Bay has caused not only a water quality crisis, but eroded the coastal wetlands, which have been scientifically proven to reduce vulnerability from storm surge, to the point of failure.
Continuing the State’s efforts to address recovery and resiliency needs, Former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo– on the second anniversary of the storm– announced the identification of $383 million in funding to support sewer projects in Suffolk County. Collectively called the Suffolk County Water Quality Improvement Initiative, the public health and water quality projects aim to help the region recover from Sandy, while preventing future septic system flooding, sewage backup and groundwater pollution. Additionally, the program will serve to protect valuable coastal wetlands that not only shield nearby communities, but provide critically-important to their economic and environmental health.
The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR), in coordination with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) and the County, proposes to extend sewers to communities along four priority watersheds along the Great South Bay characterized by substandard septic systems, dense populations, a short depth to groundwater, and short travel times for nitrogen-enriched groundwater to enter surface waters. As these communities recover from the devastating impacts from Superstorm Sandy, the extension of the sewer system is a crucial factor in the rebuilding of these communities. Properties along all four priority watersheds experienced flooding during Sandy; the application development phase of the project will be used to determine specific project locations based on, but not limited to, damage history, environmental impact, and storm resiliency. The program will install sewer and wastewater infrastructure in areas where septic systems were compromised during Superstorm Sandy in order to provide the greatest public health benefits from the sewering project.
The proposed projects that are part of the Suffolk County Water Quality Improvement include:
- Forge River Watershed centered on Mastic: This project will address impacts from Superstorm Sandy and reduce extensive nitrogen pollution to the Forge River and Great South Bay. The proposed project will connect parcels in the area to a new sewer collection system that will flow to a new wastewater treatment plant (that would include advanced nitrogen treatment) located on municipal property. The planning phase of the program will identify parcels in the Forge River watershed whose on-site septic systems were compromised as a result of Superstorm Sandy. Additionally, groundwater levels of nitrogen in the Forge River area are already at, the maximum contaminant level for drinking water, and nitrogen levels are projected to continue to increase if wastewater infrastructure is not upgraded leaving the community vulnerable and at risk of contaminated drinking water.
- Carlls River Watershed centered on North Babylon and West Babylon: This project will address storm impacts and reduce nitrogen and pathogen pollution in the Carlls River and Great South Bay. The proposed project will connect parcels within the current Sewer District No. 3—Southwest Sewer District, and expand the sewer district to include a number of parcels in the North Babylon and West Babylon areas. The planning phase of the program will identify parcels in the Carlls River watershed whose on-site septic systems were compromised as a result of Superstorm Sandy. Additionally, more than 60 percent of the nitrogen load from the Carlls River is from septic systems.
- Connequot River Watershed centered on Great River: This project will address nitrogen pollution and pathogens in Connetquot River, Nicoll Bay and Great South Bay. The proposed project will connect parcels in the Great River area to the Sewer District No. 3—Southwest Sewer District. The Connetquot River is the largest contributing source of nitrogen to the Great South Bay of the 33 sub-watersheds, contributing 15 percent of the total nitrogen in the Great South Bay; 63 percent of the nitrogen load from the Connetquot River is from septic systems. After Superstorm Sandy, wastewater flooding caused surface water impairments, resulting in 15 days of emergency closures of shellfish beds by DEC.
- Patchogue River Watershed centered on Patchogue: This project will address storm impacts and nitrogen and pathogen pollution in Patchogue River and Great South Bay. The proposed project will connect parcels to the Patchogue sewer system within the Patchogue Sewer District. As a result of significant flooding from Sandy, the on-site sanitary disposal systems in the watershed contributed to poor water quality and elevated nitrogen levels that exceed limitations set by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.
Together, the projects are part of the State’s larger efforts to apply lessons learned from recent storms and bolster coastal resiliency on Long Island. In addition to making strategic improvements to the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, the State has also established of the Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University– an institute tasked with developing and commercializing the next generation of nitrogen removal technology for on-site septic systems and cesspools.
The Suffolk County Water Quality Improvement Initiative is currently in the planning phase. Please check back for more updates as they become available.