The Peconic Baykeeper is taking legal action against the state parks department and Department of Environmental Conservation, saying they haven’t done enough to address sewage discharge pollution wreaking havoc on the bay waters they’re charged with protecting.
Last Tuesday, Peconic Baykeeper president Kevin McAllister announced his intent to sue the state parks department in federal court for failing to have sewage discharge permits for five state-operated facilities, including Wildwood State Park in Wading River. The advocacy group also filed a separate suit in state court against the state DEC May 30.
The discharge permit program is intended to control water pollutants — like nitrogen, which feeds bay-harming algal blooms — by regulating sources of pollutant discharge into U.S. waters, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency website.
“Wildwood on a hot July day, those parking lots are going to be filled,” Mr. McAllister said. “Some 1,000 toilet flushes a day are going into groundwater, going to bays.”
He said that Wildwood and other state parks are examples of areas where “wastewater discharge is not being adequately addressed, by virtue of the absence of any kind of permits.”
Permits became mandatory following the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, which requires facilities discharging pollutants into U.S. waters to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
In New York, the state DEC regulates permits and discharging pollutants without a permit is illegal, according to the EPA website.
Mr. McAllister said SUNY/Stony Brook’s Southampton campus — run by the state and home to the East End’s premier water quality research program — also lacks the required permit.
“They are here to identify and save the bays, when their own campus is not committed to clean water from wastewater discharges,” he said.
He added that the water quality researchers do not deserve the blame but SUNY/Stony Brook Southampton should be setting the standard for clean water.
“If they are the preeminent marine scientists and research center on protecting our waters, they have to walk the walk,” he said.
A Stony Brook spokesperson declined comment for this story.
In a press release, Peconic Baykeeper attorney Reed Super said the “DEC has failed to comply with the legal mandates of the Clean Water Act and state law, both of which require strict permit limits on the discharge of nitrogen, in order to protect water quality.”
The lawsuit filed in May charges that the state DEC failed to enforce permitting and regulation of the state parks, the Southampton campus and more than 1,300 sewage treatment plants and facilities. Mr. McAllister said these facilities all lack NPDES permits and some of their septic systems do not meet current wastewater standards.
Several of these facilities are on the North Fork, including the Enterprise Park at Calverton, Splish Splash Water Park, Southold Junior-Senior High School and Southold Town Hall, according to a petition Peconic Baykeeper sent to the state DEC.
“The DEC is the regulator for wastewater discharges,” Mr. McAllister said. “Our argument is there are inadequate regulations and deficient enforcement to provide for surface water protection.”
State DEC officials said that while they do not comment on pending litigation, the “DEC has a long history in working to address water quality on Long Island, recognizing the region’s reliance on a primary aquifer and the importance of high quality surface water to the local population. To achieve this goal, DEC has established rigorous restrictions on landfills, identified and protected special groundwater protection areas, and is in the process of implementing a pollution prevention strategy to address pesticides.”
By going after bigger state facilities, Mr. McAllister said, he hopes to drive the discussion toward widespread regulatory reform of wastewater discharges, particularly nitrogen.
Currently the nitrogen standard for drinking water protection is 10 milligrams of nitrogen per liter, or ten parts per million. Mr. McAllister said he would like to see regulations change to the ecological standard, .45 milligrams of nitrogen per liter, commonly agreed upon by experts.
“The state of New York and Suffolk County have been dragging their feet and ignoring the fact that they need to refine these standards to protect our bays,” Mr. McAllister said. “I think our region and Suffolk County in general does not recognize the urgency of this condition.”
Federal law requires 90 days advance notice of any intent to sue. The suit against the parks department cannot be filed before October, Mr. Super said.
The actions Peconic Baykeeper has filed against the state DEC and parks department are being undertaken in partnership with Long Island Soundkeeper, based in Connecticut.