State Assembly Passes the Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act Sponsored by Assemblyman Thiele

Legislation would generate more than $3 billion to expand wastewater treatment and reduce nitrogen in Suffolk waters; Mandatory referendum authorized for November

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. today reported that the New York State Assembly has given final passage to the Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act by a vote of 147-0.

The legislation would create a Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Fund to be funded by a .0125% increase in the County sales tax. The sales tax would expire in 2060. 25% of the existing Sewer Taxpayer Protection Fund would also be dedicated to the new fund and utilized for the upgrade of existing individual septic systems. Between $3-4 billion in new local funding would be generated for water quality restoration. 50% of the fund would expand wastewater treatment systems and 50% would replace old cesspools and septic systems with hi-tech nitrogen removing systems. The proposal must be approved by local law by the Suffolk County Legislature and would be subject to a countywide mandatory referendum.

The new fund would implement the Suffolk County Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan ("SWP"), already approved by Suffolk County and certified by the Department of Environmental Conservation. The SWP is a long-term plan to address the need for wastewater treatment infrastructure throughout the county comprehensively over a period of 50 years. The SWP delineates the source and concentration of nitrogen loading in 191 subwatersheds throughout the county and establishes nitrogen reduction goals for each watershed. There are 360,000 substandard individual septic systems across the county that must be upgraded. The County fund will also serve as a local match to attract state and federal dollars for wastewater treatment.

This legislation also provides Suffolk County with the authority to create a county-wide wastewater management district. A county-wide wastewater management district will provide an integrated and efficient approach to managing wastewater services across the county and normalize the inequitable rate structure that has long existed.

Thiele stated, “The Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act is the most important environmental measure to be approved for Suffolk County since the Pine Barrens Protection Act in 1993. The Pine Barrens Act protected 100,000 acres of land and protected our deepest groundwater recharge areas. However, despite these efforts, water quality across Long Island has continued to decline because of the negative impacts of legacy development on our groundwater. The Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act will complement the Pine Barrens Act by providing the resources to remediate existing wastewater treatment infrastructure to finally reverse this trend and clean up our bays, creeks, and groundwater. My thanks to former County Executive Steve Bellone for initiating this historic proposal and to County Executive Ed Romaine, Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffery and the Suffolk Legislature for reaching a final agreement.”

The legislation now goes to the State Senate and must also be approved by the Governor before local law adoption at the county level and a mandatory November referendum.