Title Homeowner

The Importance of Wastewater Treatment on Long Island

Most homeowners don’t like to think about wastewater; it’s messy and conjures up undesirable images in their minds. When we force ourselves to think about where our waste goes and how it affects the environment, we become aware of the importance of the wastewater treatment process and how vital each stage is to the environment and for that matter, to mankind. Our drinking water, household needs, fishing industry, transportation industry, and commerce are dependent on our wastewater treatment process running optimally and efficiently. On Long Island and in many other parts of the world, discharging inadequately treated or completely untreated wastewater is a serious concern and causes health problems, disease and degradation of the surface waters that surround Long Island.

Before 1972, Long Islanders dumped untreated raw sewage directly into cesspools, which are little more than concrete-lined holes in the ground. Due to the sandy soils in our area, this raw sewage percolated through the ground and into our surface waters quite rapidly and is the primary cause of the poor state of our fisheries and hard-shelled seafood industry today. After 1972, all new construction was required to have a septic tank to separate out the solids and provide a basic level of treatment prior to discharging our wastewater into the cesspool. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of homes were grandfathered in with cesspools only and homeowners were allowed to replace their cesspools with cesspool-only new systems.

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In July of 2019, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services revised the sanitary code to require that any replacement system have a septic tank installed upstream of their cesspools. Additionally, the grandfathering of cesspool-only systems is no longer possible. Homeowners in Suffolk County who have a failing system are now faced with the cost of adding a septic tank to their cesspool-only system, which can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000 dollars installed.

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Realizing that simply adding a septic tank does very little towards solving the wastewater problem, the County is encouraging homeowners to switch to a more modern, nitrogen-reducing onsite treatment system typically called an I/A OWT System. In order to incentivize homeowners to make the switch they are giving grants that mostly pay for the entire system. The choice is yours: you can fork over thousands of dollars to replace your septic system with 1970’s technology or you can apply for a grant that will pay for a modern, miniature wastewater treatment plant that helps protect the environment, increases the value of your home and will make you the envy of all of your neighbors!

So how do you get one of the (mostly) free upgraded septic systems for your home? You can go to the County website https://www.reclaimourwater.info/ or you can call us and we will help you through the process.

Click HERE to learn how Homeowners may be eligible to upgrade their septic systems through the Septic Upgrade Incentive Program.

Click HERE for an application for Seweage Disposal and Water Supply Facilities for a NEW SINGLE DWELLING ON VACANT PROPERTYSeptic Grant Rebate Chart

Below are useful terms to learn more about septic systems:

  • Septic System +

    A system that typically removes your untreated wastewater from your home. It should consist of a septic tank and a drainfield or a circular leaching pit. The septic tank traps most of the solids and the drainfield or leaching pit disperse the liquids (effluent) back into the ground.
  • Cesspool +

    is a concrete lined hole that is outlawed in almost all other parts of the country. It is supposed to function as a drain field that slowly dissipates your home's wastewater into the soil beneath your home. The reality is that they actually bring the wastewater closer to our groundwater and this nitrogen loaded wastewater is a primary cause of the algal blooms, fish kills and degraded water quality of our bays, estuaries and rivers. Many older homes on LI have block cesspools. These are very dangerous and can cause death if they collapse in your yard.
  • Septic Tank +

    is a watertight concrete tank that traps most of the solids in wastewater (> 50%). The remaining "brown" water (effluent) flows by gravity out to your drainage field or circular leaching pit for further soil-based treatment. Every few years you should have your septic tank pumped (every 3-5 years is typical). The pumper brings your wastewater to a central wastewater treatment plant where it gets processed. Septic tanks have been mandated in Suffolk County since 1972. Many older homes in Suffolk County do not have septic tanks so their untreated wastewater is going directly into a cesspool and ultimately into our groundwater.
  • Sewer +

    A sewer is a pipe with raw sewage (untreated wastewater) that leads from your house to a centrally located wastewater treatment plant or small community wastewater treatment system. Homeowners who are hooked up to a sewer pay sewer taxes which pays for the construction and operation of the sewer treatment plant.
  • I/A Onsite Wastewater Treatment System (I/A OWTS) +

    An I/A OWTS (also known as an innovative/advanced septic system) makes your home its own mini wastewater treatment plant by reducing solid waste, pathogens, and nitrogen. ق€“ These systems have been approved for use in Suffolk County in a new law (Article 19) that was passed in September 2016. In the future, all Suffolk County new home construction will have to either install an I/A OWTS or be hooked up to a central sewer line to stop polluting our ground and surface waters. Grant and low interest loan funding is becoming available in July 2017 for existing home upgrades to I/A OWTS as well. An I/A septic system can be installed for a fraction of the cost of running a sewer line and keeps you the homeowner in control of your wastewater treatment expenses.

Septic System Do's

  • Inspect your septic tank annually. +

    Generally, septic tanks should be pumped every three to five years. An inspection by a professional may show that you need to pump more or less often. Regular pumping ensures that solids will not flow from the septic tank into the drainfield or leaching pits. Wastewater solids can destroy the drainfield or leaching pits.
  • Use Less Water +

    Reducing the amount of wastewater entering your septic system may increase its life span, as excessive water is a major cause of system failure. Too much water from laundry, dishwasher, toilets, baths, and showers may not allow enough time for untreated wastewater (sludge and scum) to separate, causing solids to pass out of the tank and into the drainfield or leaching pit, ultimately clogging them up.

    To reduce household water use:

    • Limit the use of large water consuming appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines.
    • Use water-saving bathroom and kitchen fixtures (such as faucets, showerheads, and toilets).
    • Spread laundry over the entire week and avoid partial loads.
    • Fix all faucet and toilet leaks promptly.

  • Direct water from downspouts and roofs away from the drainfield or leaching pits. +

    Additional water from these sources may prevent your drainfield or leaching pit from working properly.
  • Keep cars and trucks off the septic tank and drainfield areas. +

    This prevents tanks & pipes from breaking and soil from becoming compacted. Compacted soils can't absorb water from the drainfield or leaching pits.
  • Use phosphate-free detergent. +

    Phosphorus is harmful to the environment especially around freshwater and surface waters, as it leads to depleted oxygen levels causing serious harm to fish and other aquatic organisms. The use of phosphate-free detergents, also helps prevent algae problems in nearby freshwater lakes and streams.
  • Install risers for easier access. +

    Risers from the tank lids to the soil surface make maintenance easier and can help keep your system safer.

Bad Practices

  • Don't use garbage disposal systems or at least limit their use. +

    A garbage disposal adds solids and grease to your system, which could lead to drainfield or leaching pits failure.
  • Don't use septic tank additives +

    or "miracle" system cleaners. Some of these chemicals can actually harm your on-site sewage system by allowing solids to flow into and clog the drainfield and leaching pits. These chemicals can also contaminate ground and surface water.
  • Don't dispose of water from hot tubs into the on-site sewage system. +

    Large volumes of water are harmful to the system, and the chlorine can destroy important bacteria in the system. Drain hot tubs onto the ground, away from the drainfield or leaching pits and not into a storm drain.
  • Don't flush solid wastes into the septic system. +

    These include diapers, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, tampons, condoms and grease etc.
  • Don't put strong chemicals, such as cleaning products or paints down the drain. +

    Household chemicals, such as drain cleaners, paint thinners and floor cleaners, can destroy important bacteria in your septic tank and contaminate ground and surface water. Also, never pour unused paint into your septic system.
  • Don't construct patios, carports or use landscaping plastic over the drainfield or leaching pits. +

    Grass is the best cover for your septic tank, drainfield, and leaching pits. Soil compaction and paving prevents necessary oxygen from getting into the soil and reduces beneficial evapo-transpiration. This oxygen is needed by bacteria to break down and treat wastewater (sewage).