Just over three years ago, I declared nitrogen Public Enemy Number One. Nitrogen is the single largest cause of degraded water quality. In Suffolk County, water — our oceans, bays and harbors — are essential to both the local economy and our way of life.

The increasing frequency of beach closures, restrictions on harvesting of shellfish, harmful algae blooms and fish kills has raised awareness of the problem. Scientists have made clear that the primary source of nitrogen pollution to our surface waters are outdated cesspools and septic systems, which are not designed to remove nitrogen from wastewater.

Over the past several years Suffolk and its partners in the environmental and business communities have made significant progress in the effort to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution. An important part of these efforts has been establishing a foundation to replace outdated cesspools and septic systems with new state-of-the-art Innovative
and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (I/A OWTS). Just as important are the county’s efforts to reduce the cost of the new systems for homeowners.

To make these new systems affordable for homeowners, Suffolk established the very first program in New York State that provides financial incentives for replacement of cesspools and septic systems with new IA technologies. A new IA system would cost most homeowners between $16,000 and $20,000, an amount that should be reduced over time as more systems are installed. Under the program, homeowners who decide to replace their cesspool or septic system with the new technologies are eligible for
grants of up to $11,000 and may also qualify to finance the remaining cost of the systems over 15 years at a low 3 percent fixed interest rate.

A fund approved by county voters in 2014 provides $2 million a year for the program through 2021, enough to fund 200 grants of $10,000 each year. Since the county began accepting applications last July, 1,045 homeowners have registered for the program, 286 residents have completed applications and 208 residents have been awarded grants.

Suffolk is recognized statewide as being at the cutting edge of efforts to address long-standing concerns about nitrogen pollution from cesspools and septic systems. Counties across the state are poised to follow Suffolk’s lead.

As I have said many times, the water quality crisis we face was created over decades and cannot be solved in one year, or even five. But we in Suffolk are committed to staying the course and working hard to keep the momentum going forward. We are making progress in the battle to reverse decades of nitrogen pollution each and every year. The residents of Suffolk and future generations deserve nothing less.

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