The Nature Conservancy has been working for more than a decade to understand the causes of Long Island’s water quality problems, identify viable solutions, and secure funding to bring clean water and healthy coasts back to Long Island.
You can help create a clean water future for Long Island. Learn how below.
Across Long Island, there are nearly half a million conventional septic systems and cesspools that release contaminants into our water. One of the most harmful of these pollutants is nitrogen. Though nitrogen is a naturally occurring element, too much of it triggers the rapid growth of harmful algal blooms, which prevent us all from enjoying time at the beach, harm pets and wildlife, poison the shellfish we eat, and hurt local businesses and tourism.
Nitrogen pollution also puts coastal communities at risk because high levels of nitrogen damage wildlife habitats, like wetlands, which provide an important shield between people and the water. Wetlands and other natural areas help protect people, roads, and buildings from storms and rising seas that are fueled by climate change. When pollution harms natural areas, they are less able to protect our communities.
The good news is that nitrogen pollution is a problem we can fix. A critical step to bringing clean water back to Long Island is preventing more nitrogen from entering it. We can do this by replacing polluting septic systems and cesspools with clean water technologies that remove pollutants from wastewater, which then keeps it out of our lakes, rivers, bays, and harbors as well as the water we drink.
The Nature Conservancy continues to work with policymakers and partners to secure the funding and policy changes we need to bring clean water and healthy coasts back to Long Island. In 2021, we helped achieve a series of important milestones.
Senators Schumer and Gillibrand helped secure $42 million from the American Rescue Plan to help Suffolk County connect more homes and businesses to sewer systems that treat nitrogen pollution. Senator Schumer is also working to almost double funding in the next infrastructure bill for clean water projects across the state. In June, the Suffolk County Legislature increased its support for Reclaim Our Water, a wildly popular program that provides much-needed assistance to homeowners committed to using clean water technology when replacing their polluting cesspools or septic systems. The additional $8 million brings total program funding up to $20 million. Also this summer, the Nassau County Legislature approved $3 million in funding for clean water septic systems, bringing the new funding total for clean water infrastructure on Long Island this year to $53 million. That’s a significant leap forward in the fight to prevent pollution and restore clean water in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
Of course, there is still more to do.
How You Can Help Improve Long Island's Water Quality
- If you have a septic system or cesspool that doesn’t treat nitrogen, one of the most important things you can do is replace your polluting wastewater system with a new clean water system. Thanks to funding secured by Long Island leaders, these new systems can be installed for a fraction of the cost of conventional systems.
- If you’d like to find out if you qualify for one or more of these programs, contact the North Shore Land Alliance. They can guide you through the septic replacement process from start to finish.
- 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.
- Join the Long Island Clean Water Partnership, which leads the fight for a clean water future, and sign up for its action alerts at licleanwater.org. Follow the group on Facebook and Twitter.
a. Together, Suffolk County and New York State provide up to $30,000 per household for clean water septic systems. Visit reclaimourwater.info to learn more and apply for funding.
b. Nassau County also provides funding to homeowners.
c. Three Long Island towns—East Hampton, Southampton and Shelter Island—have additional rebates and incentive programs that will fund septic upgrades.