Lake Ronkonkoma serves as backdrop for Suffolk's 'historic' $100 million water quality announcement

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone led the announcement on Wednesday along the Lake Ronkonkoma shore.

LAKE RONKONKOMA, NY (OnSachem.com / OnTownMedia.com) — Along the shoreline of Lake Ronkonkoma in celebration of Earth Day, Suffolk County officials announced a $100 million water quality investment to eliminate approximately 7,000 outdated cesspools and septic systems identified by scientists as the primary source of excess nutrients that have fouled local bays, contributing to harmful algae blooms, beach closures, and fish kills.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone led the announcement on Wednesday with a group of supporters for the environmental investment. According to Bellone, the funding from a combination of federal, state and county sources will be used to boost funding for the county program that provides grants to homeowners who choose to upgrade to new nitrogen-reducing septic systems and to complete sewer projects along the south shore river corridors.

“With the help and support of our colleagues in state government, the business and environmental communities, and our friends in the building trades and organized labor, Suffolk County has made more progress over the past five years than had been made in the prior four decades in efforts to address the lack of wastewater infrastructure that has harmed water quality and been a drag on our economy,” Bellone said. “This new investment will allow us to take significant next steps in implementing a long-term plan to improve water quality.”

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Under the plan, $30 million in funding would be invested in the county’s grant program for homeowners, including $10 million recently awarded by the State Septic System Replacement Fund, and $20 million from the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program.

Although the announcement was made using the waters of Lake Ronkonkoma in the center of Long Island as the backdrop, most of the $100 million funding would be directed toward two south shore projects about 18 miles to the southwest in Babylon and 14 miles to the southeast in Brookhaven hamlet. 

According to Bellone, $70 million would be invested to complete two long-awaited sewer projects along south shore river corridors that comprise the Suffolk County Coastal Resiliency Initiative, which will eliminate nearly 6,000 cesspools and septic systems by connecting parcels to sewers along the Carlls River in Babylon and Forge River in Brookhaven. 

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Bellone thanked U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) for making sure that the American Rescue Plan funding can be used for sewer infrastructure.

“We are hopeful that there will be a separate federal infrastructure bill, but the timetable for Congress to act is not clear yet, and these historic sewer projects are ready to begin now,” Bellone said.

Suffolk County’s Septic Improvement Program was established in 2017 and provides grants of up to $30,000 in state and county funding to homeowners who choose to replace their existing non-performing cesspool or septic system with a new Innovative/Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment System. To date, over 2,300 homeowners have applied for grants under the program. County funding for the program was originally established at $2 million per year, but increasing interest on the part of the public prompted the County Legislature to approve $3.7 million in additional water quality funding last July because the pace of applications exceeded the amount of funding available, Bellone said. To apply for a grant, visit www.reclaimourwater.info.

“Today’s announcement brings us closer than ever to restoring clean water in Suffolk County," said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "Year after year, we witness water quality impairments and harmful algal blooms from nitrogen pollution plaguing nearly every bay, lake, river and estuary in our county. However, we are now seeing growing success of the county’s program to combat nitrogen pollution from sewage and replace these antiquated septic systems. This infusing of critical funding will ensure we are well on our way to once again seeing healthy waterways and productive ecosystems throughout Suffolk County.”

John R. Durso, President of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, added: “On the issue of water quality our labor movement, and the 250,000 working families we represent, have enjoyed an unprecedented partnership with the environmental movement, economic development organizations, and community leaders to build out the region’s wastewater infrastructure and tackle the challenge head-on. Today’s Earth Day announcement is another step on the path to achieving environmental and economic justice, serves to strengthen the bonds of our coalition, and puts our region on track for a better future.”

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