On December 5, 2017, the Suffolk County Legislature passed legislation amending the Suffolk County Sanitary Code, which imposes new requirements on wastewater management intended to improve water quality throughout Suffolk County. Executive Steve Bellone signed the legislation into law on December 21, 2017. The ban goes into effect on a county wide level July 2019.
There has been significant debate in regard to the various ways Long Island’s fragile water systems can best be protected. Towns such as East Hampton and Southampton have already implemented financial incentives for property owners to upgrade outdated systems, and have passed legislation, which imposes mandatory requirements for new construction and equipment upgrades when systems are replaced. (New Nitrogen Control Requirements Imposed on Construction in Suffolk County, East Hampton and Southampton, October 17, 2017). Now, Suffolk County joins the fray by closing a significant loophole in the Suffolk County Sanitary Code.
Under the former Suffolk County Sanitary Code, homeowners were not required to replace an aging or failing cesspool with anything but an in-kind cesspool. Moreover, approval from the Health Department was not required and replacements did not necessarily meet County construction standards. These outdated systems have contributed to the degradation of Long Island’s waters in that they failed to properly separate and contain nitrogen, pharmaceuticals, personal care products and other pollutants. As a result, these pollutants have infiltrated the waters and contributed to harmful algae bloom, and destruction to sea and shellfisheries, among other things.
Effective July 2019, however, all property owners replacing a cesspool are now, at a minimum, required to add a septic tank. Moving forward, this provision is, according to Executive Bellone, expected to “advance the water quality efforts undertaken by Suffolk County and set the stage for the evolution away from the use of non-performing cesspools and septic systems to the use of new, state-of-the-art technologies that reduce nitrogen in residential wastewater by up to 70 percent.”
Homeowners will also be required to obtain a permit from Suffolk County prior to replacing or retrofitting a cesspool. The cost for the permit has not yet been determined.
Effective July 1, 2018, the new law will require those in the wastewater industry to report to the Department of Health Services all system replacement and retrofitting, as well as pumping activities pertaining to septic tanks, cesspools, grease traps, and leaching structures. Moreover, contractors or property owners making significant changes to the use of a commercial property with grandfathered non-conforming wastewater systems will be required to install nitrogen reducing systems.
This legislation is expected to be the first of a series of changes to the Sanitary Code intended to improve Suffolk County’s water quality.