Many possible (and sometime conflicting) ideas are being put forward to solve Long Island's water problems. Some are concerned with the quantity and quality of our drinking water, while others focus on how to handle waste and surface water contamination. Here we present some of these ideas for your consideration. Sewer Construction While 90% of the homes in Nassau County are connected to centralized sewer systems, only about 30% of the homes in Suffolk County have sewage collection and treatment service. Construction of more sewer systems is one option being actively explored and promoted. The focus for this construction is the high-density communities on the south shore close to the shoreline and to the larger river systems that drain into Great South Bay. The housing density along the south shore makes sewer connections cheaper and the proximity to existing sewer systems will allow for expansion of existing sewage treatment. However, given the development-inducing nature of sewer system expansion, caution is needed to avoid perpetuating the same water quality problems in coastal water systems due to an increased population.
The Long Island Water Compact Long Island has a patchwork of water departments and authorities that produce and deliver our drinking water, but they do not manage the resource itself. Many states (and groups of states) have followed the successful practice of establishing single-purpose water management authorities to oversee and protect a shared natural resource such as a river system for all stakeholders who depend on it. For Long Island, a state-authorized Aquifer "Compact" similar to river basin compacts has been proposed to comprehensively and scientifically manage the groundwater supply. The compact would fill the gap in groundwater protection, remediation, planning, quantity management and enforcement presently missing on Long Island.
Regulating Discharge of Nitrogen from Sewage Treatment Facilities Nitrogen is a primary pollutant that impacts coastal waters because of the high sensitivity of aquatic ecosystems to nutrient enrichment. While the drinking water standard for nitrogen (nitrates, NO3) is 10 parts per million (ppm), coastal and fresh surface water systems are impacted by nitrogen levels less than 1 ppm. Reducing the discharge standard for sewage treatment plants discharging into sensitive coastal ecosystems such as those around Long Island is within the authority of state officials but such changes have not yet occurred.
Restrictions on Future Development Real estate development on Long Island has been blamed for many of our water problems, from over-pumping of ground water resources (allowing development that exceeds supply) to contamination of surface water due to poor septic system construction. Stricter enforcement of existing codes, restrictions on new construction and changes in building codes to mandate nitrogen-reduction measures (e.g. denitrifying or nitrogen capture technologies) are being proposed.
Nitrogen Capture Technologies New technologies for capturing nitrogen in commercial and institutional waste water systems are being developed. Nitrogen gleaned from these systems is valuable and can be a source of revenue.
Denitrifying Technologies in Sewage Treatment Suffolk County has been active in researching and piloting de-nitrifying technologies for residential and commercial on-site wastewater treatment applications. Denitrification is the process that changes reactive forms of nitrogen back to non-reactive nitrogen gas. This denitrification process has been successfully utilized to remove nitrogen from municipal and industrial wastewater and can be used by both individual homes and wider communities.
Mandatory Waterless and Zero Discharge Wastewater Systems Around the U.S. and in other countries, locations with fragile ecosystems (e.g. Nova Scotia) or water supplies mandate the installation of closed system wastewater treatment systems in all residential construction. Advances in waterless systems, such as composting or incinerating toilets and similar alternative technologies, make waterless systems indistinguishable from regular toilets. Performance, cost, and the reduction in infrastructure requirements make such systems desirable and cost effective when compared to new septic systems or sewer system costs. They also solve the problem of wastewater disposal and its impacts.
Mandatory Pumping/Reporting of Private Waste Systems Towns on Cape Cod (and elsewhere) with hydrogeology similar to that of Long Island require mandatory bi-annual pumping of private wastewater systems along with mandatory reporting by pumping contractors. Multiple jurisdictions, lack of resources and a history of dismissing the threats of poorly treated wastewater in favor of development have hampered the implementation of such a system on Long Island. This solution addresses pathogens from solid waste, but not nitrogen, which is primarily contained in urine.
Mandatory Lawn Chemical/Fertilizer Restrictions and Organic Lawns High-nitrogen fertilizers contribute to nitrogen loading in rivers and bays in polluted runoff. Pesticides have been found in drinking water supplies and groundwater, especially in Suffolk County. Both Nassau and Suffolk County have the authority to limit nitrogen levels in fertilizer sold in the county, and homeowners can use organic methods to maintain properties. Farmers using organic methods to grow crops focus on soil quality and non-toxic solutions to pest problems, which do not pollute ground or surface waters.
Reusing Wastewater Where Appropriate Reclaimed wastewater has been reliably and safely used for decades in a number of states, most notably California, Florida, and the arid Southwest, usually for non-potable activities such as industrial cooling, and golf course and landscape irrigation. New York State has the authority to develop and implement rules, regulations and standards for the re-use of water, but has not done so. As a sole source aquifer, increased use of recycled wastewater will need careful assessment since most sewage treatment does not remove all the pollutants of concern for water quality protection. However, there may be a role for conserving water through wastewater reuse.