Looking out over a salt marsh with water and vegetation in view.
Landmark Legislation Resolution 1643 will help people and nature thrive. © Kara Jackson / TNC

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Suffolk County Legislature Passes Landmark Legislation to Cut Pollution, Improve Water Quality, Protect Public Health, and Create Good-Paying Jobs

The Nature Conservancy applauds the Suffolk County Legislature for passing landmark legislation today that enables the County to make important strides in addressing water-quality problems linked to nitrogen pollution from wastewater. These problems include more frequent and intense harmful algal blooms and fish kills, which close beaches, endanger public health, damage fisheries, and threaten Long Island’s $5 billion tourism industry. 

Resolution 1643 requires that all new buildings and all buildings undergoing substantial renovations use clean-water septic systems, which remove as much as 90 precent of nitrogen pollution. These systems prevent contaminants from seeping into local groundwater, then into Long Island’s sole-source aquifer, and finally, into the area’s rivers, lakes, harbors, and bays, where it is the primary cause of harmful algal blooms and other water-quality problems.

“This historic change to the Suffolk County health code keeps us on the right track to fix our nitrogen pollution problem,” said Kevin G. McDonald, Long Island policy advisor for The Nature Conservancy. “These important changes complement the County’s robust program to replace old, polluting septic systems by helping ensure that no new polluting systems get put in the ground. With this change, there will be less of a need to replace polluting systems down the line.” 

The legislation, which requires no taxpayer funding, will affect approximately 1,100 new homes annually. Each year, it will prevent an additional 20,000 pounds or more of nitrogen pollution from entering Long Island’s waters. 

The legislation creates additional benefits: 

  • Good-paying jobs and lower costs: Res. 1643 will increase demand for clean-water septic systems, which will help put Long Islanders back to work and lower costs for consumers. Manufacturers of clean-water septic systems are also considering expanding operations to Long Island, and this legislation could help seed market expansion.
  • Easier regulations: Builders currently face a patchwork of septic-system regulations as these regulations vary by locality. Res. 1643 creates one system for Suffolk County, which will make it easier and cheaper for builders and contractors to do their work. 
  • Safeguards public health: Harmful algal blooms can lead to diseases such as diarrhetic shellfish poisoning. Ingesting nitrogen-fueled, toxic blue-green algae can sicken and kill pets and people alike. By reducing the amount of nitrogen pollution entering Suffolk County’s ground and surface waters, Res. 1643 takes an important step in helping to restore the health of Long Island’s waters and protect the Long Island residents who depend on them.

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 79 countries and territories, 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.