Suffolk County offered a tour Wednesday of local homes where advanced onsite wastewater have been installed.
It’s part of the county’s effort to encourage homeowners to update their septic systems to significantly reduce nitrogen output, which puts the health of ecosystems and humans at risk.
The county launched a Septic Improvement Program last year to offer grants to homeowners to offset the cost purchasing and installing the new technology. Grants are up to $11,000. In addition, homeowners can apply for loans to finance the remaining cost of the systems, which could reach $20,000. The loans would be paid over 15 years at a three percent fixed interest rate, according to the county.
Donna Ursprung of Jamesport, whose home is steps away from the Peconic Bay, was the recipient of a new system last year for free through a lottery. A Flanders home was also included in Wednesday’s tour.
Ms. Ursprung’s new system was recently tested, averaging at an output of 9.2 mL of nitrogen, compared to and older system that could discharge anywhere from 40 to 120 mL in influent flows, according to Bryan McGowin, president and owner of Advanced Wastewater Solutions.
The system includes three chambers through which effluent is treated through aeration to break down the nitrogen levels. Half of the treated material gets treated again, while the other half goes into a pressurized shallow narrow drain field system, distributes treated effluent where nutrient adsorption is at its highest. While nitrogen is processed out, other nutrients are absorbed into the soil in yard.
“It’s really amazing the process that it goes through,” Ms. Ursprung said. She said she thinks the county should require advanced wastewater treatment systems in all new home construction.
More than 180 homeowners have had their grant applications through the county’s program approved. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced earlier this year that Suffolk County would receive about $10 million to help residents replace outdated systems.
Nitrogen is the biggest issue the Peconic Bay faces right now, said Peconic Baykeeper executive director Sean O’Neill. The more systems that go in the ground, the better, he said.
“From the environmental advocacy side of it, it become a situation where at least with new construction, any major change in zoning, anything like that, that these systems do become mandatory,” he said, noting that the current voluntary program will help work out how funding and how systems go in.
Deputy Suffolk County Executive Peter Scully said the Suffolk County Legislature will discuss different policy proposals later this year and next year different ways to see more septic treatment systems installed.
Caption: The system at the Ursprung home in Jamesport. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)