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Newsroom | The Nature Conservancy

New Plant-Based Wastewater Treatment System Goes Live at The Nature Conservancy’s Cold Spring Harbor Office

Hundreds of pounds of nitrogen pollution to be removed; innovative technology paves the way for cleaner water in Cold Spring Harbor and beyond.

Cold Spring Harbor, NY

The Nature Conservancy has installed a new nitrogen-reducing wastewater wetland at Uplands Farm Sanctuary, a nature preserve that also serves as the organization’s office on Long Island. The system, designed in partnership with the Stony Brook University Center for Clean Water Technology, acts as a miniature wetland by harnessing the natural processes of plants and soil microbes to treat wastewater and significantly reduce nitrogen pollution and other contaminants by up to 90% before they seep into groundwater and waterways. It is the first-of-its-kind in western Suffolk County and will be closely monitored with the goal of creating more efficient and cost-effective systems for use across Long Island.

The new wastewater-wetland is part of the Conservancy’s effort to demonstrate the range of solutions to Long Island’s nitrogen crisis, which continues to create dead zones in Long Island’s bays, close beaches, kill large numbers of fish, and threaten the source of the island’s drinking water.

“Outdated wastewater infrastructure is the number one source of the nitrogen pollution that threatens Long Island’s waters, economy, and way of life,” said Chris Clapp, a marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy who led the project. “The Conservancy is pleased that our Uplands Farm Sanctuary will be tapping into the power of nature to improve water quality. The wastewater wetland will be a case study for future sites, including small office complexes, commercial operations, and schools.”

Suffolk County Legislator William R. Spencer, D-Huntington, has been an advocate of the project from its inception. “Having advocated for grant funding for this first-of-its kind, nitrogen reducing, wastewater wetland in western Suffolk County, I’m so pleased to see this project come to fruition,” stated Legislator Spencer, M.D. “This system will make a positive difference in the water quality in Cold Spring Harbor and beyond.”

The wastewater-wetland converts harmful nitrogen in raw wastewater into harmless gas. The plants’ roots provide habitat for beneficial bacteria and microbes that break down nutrients and other compounds in wastewater. Several native plant species have an added job as butterfly and bird attractors, and this spring the wastewater-wetland will be in full bloom. The system also includes a woodchip denitrification chamber and a shallow drain field, which treats the wastewater further. In addition, two nitrogen-reducing septic systems have been installed elsewhere on the property with the help of the Center for Clean Water Technology.

Together, these systems will replace six existing cesspools at the office and residential complex Uplands Farm Sanctuary and prevent approximately 250 pounds of nitrogen per year from entering the groundwater and eventually flowing into nearby Cold Spring Harbor, says Clapp. That is equivalent to eliminating nitrogen pollution from approximately 25 homes. Students from Stony Brook University will monitor the effluent from the system to measure the amount of nitrogen reduction.

Uplands Farm Sanctuary was a working dairy farm until 1962, and during colonial times, the land was used for raising sheep for wool. Now, the silo and brick farm buildings serve as a Conservancy office, and cow pastures have become open meadows for visitors to enjoy. The system’s plantings are visible from the trailhead, and signage will encourage visitors to learn about the project and the impact of nitrogen pollution on Long Island.

The project was a collaboration with Stony Brook University’s Center for Clean Water Technology, the engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting, Excav Services, and landscape architect Stacy Paetzel. The Conservancy received funding from Suffolk County and the federal Long Island Sound Futures Fund through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Photographs of the system are available here.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.