Could new regulations to filter waste ‘muddy the waters’?

05/29/2014 8:00 AM |
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay.

The view from Route 105 bridge at Indian Island golf course as the Peconic River leads into the Bay. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

New construction and any big renovation projects on Long Island would need to incorporate modern waste treatment systems to better filter nitrogen and keep it from reaching ground and surface waters.

Registered pesticides that appear in groundwater in “multiple clusters” would be “prohibit[ed] for use.”

And, starting in 2017, no one would be allowed to repair cesspools in certain “priority areas” of Nassau or Suffolk counties. Those people would instead have to install denitrification systems. 

These are just a few of the restrictions outlined in a new water quality control measure introduced in the state Assembly May 22 by Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst). He announced the measure that day during a meeting in Islandia with members of the Long Island Clean Water Partnership advocacy group and others.

The bill comes 10 months after a prior legislative proposal with a similar goal for cleaning up Long Island’s ground and surface waters was introduced by Mr. Sweeney and state Senator Ken LaValle, (R-Port Jefferson) — but that bill was met with much criticism from stakeholders.

Mr. Sweeney hopes to bring his bill to a vote before the year’s legislative session ends in three weeks. The 20-year assemblyman, who serves as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, has announced he will not seek re-election this November.

Mr. LaValle has yet to introduce new corresponding legislation in the Senate, saying that he is reaching out for further comment from interested parties.

He told the News-Review last week he’s committed to releasing a bill by the end of the 2014 session on June 19 and that his version is likely to differ in a number of ways from Mr. Sweeney’s revised proposal.

“We need to put people in a room and take [Mr. Sweeney’s] bill apart so that we know exactly what the thinking is,” Mr. LaValle said.

The bill aims to curb the amount of nitrogen — which comes from human and animal waste, fertilizers and other sources — that reaches the aquifer and, ultimately, area bays and Long Island Sound, feeding algal booms that damage ecosystems by depriving waters of oxygen.

“We only have one underground system [from which to draw fresh water] and there are multiple entities that tap into it and depend up on it,” Mr. Sweeney said. “Trying to appropriately balance those concerns has probably been the trickiest part of the process.”

The new proposal differs significantly from his previous Assembly bill, Mr. Sweeney said. Among other provisions, it outlines specific regulations to be put into place over time and gives the state Department of Conservation mandated responsibilities in terms of water quality management.

“We require more hazardous waste collection days [under the proposed bill], with DEC funding,” he said. “We provide for more information on water use reporting and we do give DEC some responsibilities, which I think is logical in regard to developing water quality criteria and managing water quality long term.”