A view of a Long Island shoreline with the beach on the left-hand side and the ocean on the right-hand side.
Long Island Shore You can play a role in cleaning Long Island's water. © Anthony Graziano

Stories in New York

You Can Help Clean Long Island's Water

From septic systems to cleaning supplies, learn about all of the ways that your personal actions impact water quality in Long Island Sound.

Why You Should Act

Long Island’s coastlines, lakes, harbors and bays are central to many residents of the region. But in recent years, that connection has been threatened because of worsening water quality and a growing number of beach closures, harmful algae blooms, fish kills and limits on shellfishing. The main source of this problem is the nitrogen pollution that comes from wastewater. Conventional septic systems and cesspools are the largest source of the problem; the vast majority of them were never designed to treat the nitrogen that wastewater contains. Here’s the good news, though: We know how to fix this problem and we have the tools to do it. 

What Is Nitrogen Pollution?

Wastewater contains significant amounts of nitrogen. Unfortunately, conventional septic systems and cesspools do nothing to treat that nitrogen and instead release it into local groundwater. From there, it merges into nearby bodies of water, eventually moving out to the ocean and the Long Island Sound, where it fuels harmful algal blooms and other problems. On Long Island, there are currently about 500,000 of these polluting systems installed at homes, businesses and community institutions. Now, funding from local and county governments and from New York State is available to help Long Islanders address this problem by replacing outdated septic systems with modern, clean-water systems that remove nitrogen and help heal the rivers and streams, lakes, harbors and bays that local communities hold dear.

What Can I Do?

  1. Swap out your outdated cesspool/septic system with a modern, clean-water system. Collectively, Suffolk County and New York State offer incentives of up to $30,000 per household; Nassau County has started providing incentives, too. Three Long Island towns—East Hampton, Southampton and Shelter Island—also have rebates and incentive programs that will fund septic upgrades. 
  2. Find out if you qualify for a program that can guide you through the septic replacement process from start to finish. For more information, visit the North Shore Land Alliance
  3. Reduce or eliminate fertilizer and lawn and garden chemicals, many of which are high in nitrogen. Choose drought-resistant plants and grasses. The Perfect Earth Project can teach you more about chemical-free lawn and garden care.
  4. Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, which advocates for clean-water policies, and sign up for its action alerts at licleanwater.org. Follow the group on Facebook and Twitter.