County program to help residents replace outdated septic systems

Suffolk County created a pilot program to encourage homeowners to replace outdated septic systems or cesspools — an initiative that aims to reduce nitrogen pollution in the county.

The Reclaim Our Water Septic Improvement Program allows homeowners to receive a grant totaling up to $11,000 from the county toward replacing old wastewater systems with new technology.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called it a “huge leap forward” in efforts to protect water quality.

“For more than four decades, most residents of this country had been left with no choice other than to inject untreated wastewater from their homes directly into the ground,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement. “The good news is that we have made more progress to reverse this unacceptable practice in the past four years than Suffolk County had seen in a half century. This new grant and loan program is exactly what is needed to take our hard work to reverse decades of nitrogen.”

There are more than 360,000 homes that use outdated septic systems and cesspools, according to the county. The outdated systems do not properly treat wastewater to remove nitrogen. The nitrogen excess affects water quality and has closed beaches, caused brown tides and fish kills.

“As I have said many times, all of our efforts to replace polluting systems with new technology that will protect water quality could be of limited value if we don’t find a way to make these new technologies affordable for homeowners,” Mr. Bellone said.

Some advanced wastewater treatment systems are valued at $16,000, the county has said throughout its Reclaim Our Water initiative.

Homeowners can also qualify to finance leftover costs of new systems over 15 years at a fixed interest rate of 3 percent through a loan program by the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, according to the county executive’s office.

Kevin McDonald, conversation finance and policy director for the Nature Conservancy of Long Island, said in a statement that new, less-polluting septic technologies will help recover ground and surface water quality, as well as improve the county’s bays and harbors. “Long Island’s reliance on cesspools and old-fashioned septic systems is an outdated practice that allows nitrogen from human waste to flow into our groundwater and surface waters with adverse impacts,” Mr. McDonald said. “Harmful algal blooms, dead fish, loss of shellfish have all been attributed to nitrogen pollution from sewage.”

There are $2 million in total funds available for the first year of the program and will be funded that amount each year through 2021, according to the county executive’s office.

The incentive program will launch in July with an application process.

[email protected]