Glynis Berry, Acting Executive Director of Peconic Green Growth, spoke to the Southampton Town Board last Thursday morning about a proposal to decentralize wastewater treatment on the East End.
PGG, with a Suffolk Community Service Initiative Grant sponsored by former county legislator Ed Romaine, developed a methodology to identify the need for upgraded decentralized wastewater treatment that meets stringent environmental goals.
Sample cases were developed with the help of the GIS and Planning Departments of the Town of Southampton.
"The need to have a clear understanding and map is now a reality here," said Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, since areas all across the five East End towns have been mapped to depict their wastewater status is.
According to Berry's studies, average nitrate levels have increased significantly in all underlying aquifers, with the rapid rise demonstrating a need for mitigation.
The Long Island Sound Study sponsors projects currently in Riverhead and Southold within the Long Island Sound Watershed. Suffolk County will be funding similar efforts in the near future for the Peconic Estuary.
Decentralized human wastewater treatment systems include both on-site and community systems. Where densities warrant, such as in Greenport or Riverhead, central sewers are used. Traditionally on-site systems used cesspools, which gather all the waste collected from household uses, and filter the wastewater into the ground. Open joints or spaces in the cesspool wall leak both liquid and dissolved solids into the ground. And as a result, the soil's ability to filter and treat is compromised and pathogens and nitrogen can enter groundwater.
Houses built before 1973 were likely to have cesspools. Currently it is not required by law to upgrade one's system to current standards; cesspools were grandfathered in.
"The idea behind decentralizing the treatment," Berry said, "is that you're not just picking one solution, you're actually picking a variety of solutions, depending on the situation and what's most cost effective."
Berry's studies show Southampton Town's North Sea, Flanders and Noyac have the most areas suffering the greatest from current wastewater treatments.
"Our surface and groundwater are being severely compromised," said Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. "Nitrogen is the main culprit. We have overwhelmingly antiquated systems resulting in years of waste in the groundwater that is now seeping into our bays."
Berry opined the whole idea behind a decentralized wastewater treatment proposal is to make the treatment district as large as possible.
"The bigger the better," she said. "It increases the kind of services that can be provided and it makes the environment that much better for everyone."