Featured Letter: Steps to reduce nitrogen in groundwater

(Credit: The Nature Conservancy)
This map uses pie charts to break down the various sources and levels of nitrogen pollution found in the Peconic Estuary from Calverton to Montauk and Orient. Click on map to enlarge. (Credit: The Nature Conservancy)

To the editor:

Controlling nitrogen in groundwater and the bays. As a former Suffolk County Health Department employee, I am familiar with the nitrogen in groundwater and its impact to surface water. I applaud the county for looking at wastewater discharges, specifically on-site disposal, and studying the latest nitrogen removal technologies. Further, now SUNY Stony Brook will hopefully be doing research on newer removal techniques and performing pilot studies.

Presently, the nitrogen removal for on-site disposal systems is too costly for most homeowners and would not retrofit to small lots surrounding the bays. There are, however, steps that can be taken to begin to reduce nitrogen discharges to groundwater and ultimately surface waters while research continues.

• The addition of septic tanks to old cesspools and replacing block cesspools. Create an incentive program for homeowners to upgrade these old cesspool systems. The Town of Southampton did so a few years ago with much success.

• Creation of septic districts. Form a special district where every three years the sanitary systems (old cesspool or septic tank/leaching pool) are pumped out and the harmful sludge is taken away. The cost of the pump-out could become a tax, so that the homeowner would not pay for the service when completed. (Example, estimate pump-out costs at $450/3 or $150 per year in taxes.)

The idea of these options is that they can be implemented now, while the research and pilot plants are studied. We must remember that it has taken many years for the nitrogen to impact the bays and it will take many years to reverse the trend, but we can start now.

Joseph Baier, Wading River