Long Island Communities in New York Tighten Onsite System Rules

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Suffolk County, New York, has been pushing to replace common cesspools with advanced onsite systems that reduce nitrogen pollution, and now a couple of communities within it are going further.

The county occupies roughly the eastern two-thirds of Long Island and includes the Hamptons, known as a weekend retreat for very wealthy residents of New York City. The county also has a large number of cesspools and their accessory problems of poor water quality. About 360,000 homes in the county, or about 75 percent of all homes, use cesspools for wastewater treatment.

The town of East Hampton, located near the tip of Long Island, voted to become the first community in the state to require low-nitrogen wastewater systems in all new construction. Low-nitrogen systems will also be required if a building undergoes substantial renovation. Commercial and municipal properties must switch to low-nitrogen systems if they are presently connected to a large-capacity cesspool.

To help homeowners fund the transition to better technology, the town board voted to adopt a rebate program that will give homeowners in critical watershed areas up to $16,000 toward the cost of a replacement system. People not living in critical areas may receive up to $10,000 or 75 percent of the cost.

Homeowners may pair these rebates with a county program that provides grants of $10,000 to $11,000 per home. At the end of May, County Executive Steve Bellone signed the Reclaim Our Water initiative’s Septic Improvement Program into law. The $10 million grant program will pay for about 200 wastewater systems annually to be converted to advanced nitrogen-removal systems.

The East Hampton grants are funded by a 2 percent tax on real estate transactions. In the fall of 2016, voters gave the town permission to use up to 20 percent of the tax revenue for water-quality improvement projects.

East Hampton’s new construction rules will take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Suffolk County has approved four systems for installation: Norweco Singulair and Hydro-Kinetic, AdvanTex from Orenco Systems, and Hydro-Action.

On Shelter Island, which is on the north side of Long Island in a bay opening into Long Island Sound, officials are considering tightening the building rules in the same way.

The town board has asked its attorney to draft legislation that would require low-nitrogen systems for new residential and commercial construction as well as for any work that changes 50 or more percent of a building.


Residents of the Detroit suburb of Southfield are complaining about letters from the city telling them to either have their onsite systems certified or face the possibility of a citation. The city mailed some 500 notices.

This is happening because of a 2009 city ordinance that requires people with septic tanks to have those tanks certified every three years. If the evaluation finds a tank that is inadequate, unsafe, or subject to failure, the owner must connect to the available municipal sewer. Residents complained they were not informed about the ordinance and may face the prospect of paying thousands of dollars to connect to the municipal sewer, according to The Detroit News.

City Attorney Sue Ward says state law gives cities the power to ask residents with onsite systems to connect to municipal sewer if the connection is within 200 feet of a home.


Some residents in Doylestown Township, about 24 miles north of Philadelphia, will be required to pay for a municipal sewer connection.

Township officials say onsite systems in the area show signs of failing, and in mid-August, the township’s supervisors voted unanimously to approve the $8.6 million project. The township is applying for a low-interest loan through the state, but it is the 252 affected homeowners who will pay the loan back. Supervisors say all taxpayers should not carry the cost when the project will affect only a small section of the community, according to The Intelligencer.

Lifelong township resident Audrey Ervin says she thought it unfair for homeowners to face an estimated cost of $34,000 each when only a few septic systems are failing. The town had engineers look at onsite systems in 1998 and 2008, and their report says the observations “found a significant amount of malfunctioning (septic systems) in the area.”


A broken septic line fouled part of Jones Hole Creek in Dinosaur National Monument and led the National Park Service to ban fishing, hiking and swimming along 4.25 miles of the stream. The Salt Lake Tribune reports the break was in a wastewater line at the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery. Bacteria counts were almost six times higher than the level that triggers health warnings from the state. The Dinosaur Quarry and visitor center remained open, but the park service closed the hatchery and its parking lot to block visitor access to certain trailheads.


After a contentious election in which county commissioners were turned out of office because of a septic system monitoring fee, the new Thurston County board is looking at its options for complying with state law.

The county surrounds the state capital of Olympia on the south end of Puget Sound. Under state law, all 12 counties bordering Puget Sound must formulate a plan to inspect septic systems and replace failed systems. There have been concerns for some time about damage to the waters of Puget Sound and its shellfish beds from failing onsite systems.

In 2016, the previous county board voted to impose a $10 fee on about 42,000 onsite systems to pay for the cost of monitoring them. The fee drew strong opposition. Proponents say it was a cheap way to protect Puget Sound. Opponents say they are capable of caring for their systems by themselves. The present board removed the fee but kept the rest of the plan in place.

Now, the Thurston County commissioners have been given three options by county staff, reports The Chronicle in Lewis County. They may continue with the present plan, rescind it or develop a new plan focused on the watershed for Puget Sound or on high-priority areas.

Continuing with the current plan would provide better service to onsite system owners, the staff report says. Targeting high-priority areas would charge fees only to people in affected areas. Rescinding the plan would impair the county’s ability to locate failing systems.


About 18 months after a leak from a wastewater storage pond, the state and the Yellowstone Club have agreed on a penalty. The club will pay $288,788 for an environmental project of its choosing, and it must submit that project for state approval. If it and the state cannot agree on a project by August 2018, the club will pay $192,525 or a prorated portion. State guidelines say requiring environmental project payments encourages violators to further reduce the risk of pollution and improve public health.

The club has already paid the state $29,564 for the cost of investigating the spill and a penalty of $64,175.

The spill happened in 2016 when 30 million gallons of treated wastewater flowed from the club’s storage pond into the Gallatin River. State engineers believe a buildup of ice dislodged a 24-inch pipe that enclosed two smaller pipes. Water flowed through gaps in the 24-inch pipe and into the river. Water from the pond is used for the club’s golf course.


Mandatory septic inspections are coming to the township of Algonquin Highlands in 2018, and to educate residents about the program, the township and its engineering consultant planned a septic social. Onsite systems are reportedly the leading source of phosphorus in Ontario lakes, and that leads to algae blooms. The inspection plan will affect about 900 septic tanks, and each year, technicians will visually inspect them.

British Columbia

A festival to celebrate restoration of the Gorge Waterway in Victoria on Vancouver Island was interrupted by fecal contamination. Provincial officials say the contamination came from the illegal dumping of septage and a disinfecting chemical into a creek that leads to the waterway.

The Gorge is a channel connecting Victoria Harbor to a tidal inlet. Sewage and industrial waste severely degraded the water quality by the 1940s, and the damage was reversed by cleanup work that began in the 1990s.


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