Water is an important resource that we all have a responsibility to protect. In general, pollution from cesspools and failed septic systems can damage well water and surface waters that we rely on for drinking water. The typical pollutants in household wastewater are nitrogen, phosphorous, and disease-causing bacteria and viruses. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an estimated 10–20% of septic systems fail during their lifetimes. Nitrogen pollution from cesspools and failing septic systems is the leading source of excess nutrients in our bays and other natural waters. The pollution introduces too many nutrients into the body of water, leading to algal blooms, fish death, and beach closures. According to a study by the Long Island Commission for Aquifer Protection, nitrogen pollution in Long Island’s aquifers rose by 200% between 1987 and 2005. Septic systems aren’t always designed to remove this excess nitrogen pollution and thus, Suffolk County is requiring innovative solutions to better protect our waterways and coastal environment. The septic systems that are promising are known as advanced septic systems, which can reduce excess nitrogen by up to 50% and are a practical solution to the problem.

Current Suffolk County regulations require a septic tank to separate solids from the liquid and overflow leaching pools or a leaching field so the liquid can seep into the soil. The regulations prevent new systems on new construction from being installed in the older and proven ineffective ways, such as direct discharge to a cesspool. Contractors hired to replace a system have an obligation to report replacements to the County.

Approximately 75% of properties in Suffolk County utilize private septic systems for wastewater treatment. According to Suffolk County News, due to changes in the Sanitary Code, as of July 1, 2019, “replacement of existing cesspools or septic systems will require the filing of registrations with the health department” in Suffolk County.

The requirements for septic system certification in Suffolk County are strict, and while system failure may be daunting, many local government agencies offer financial help grants and loans. In 2019, Suffolk County officials revealed a $4 billion plan to reduce nitrogen pollution in Suffolk County. The funding is intended for septic system upgrades and replacement in pollution-sensitive areas all across Suffolk County.

What funding options are available for septic system upgrades and repair?

Suffolk County residents may be eligible for the following funding:

  • $10,000 base grant from Suffolk County
  • $5,000 incentive for Low to Moderate Income
  • $5,000 incentive for Pressurized Shallow Draining Fields/ Nitrogen Polishing Units
  • 50% of cost up to $10,000 grant from New York State (sales tax, pumping or decommissioning, internal plumbing or operation and maintenance costs are not covered)
  • Town rebates may be available for the following towns:
    • Southampton
    • East Hampton
    • Shelter Island

Contractors are paid grant funds directly by the County on the homeowner’s behalf. Applicants must use a vendor from the County’s list in order to be eligible for grant funding. There are criteria for eligibility set by Suffolk County listed below:

  • The residence must be single-family, owner-occupied year-round, and a property owner’s primary residence.
  • The residence must be served by a septic system or cesspool and not connected to a sewer system or located within a proposed sewer district.
  • Property may not be used as a rental property.
  • New construction is not eligible.
  • No home-based business on the property or in the residence.
  • Property owner(s) may not be a current employee of Suffolk County, an elected official of the State of New York or any political subdivision, or a party officer.
  • Property does not have any outstanding or open real property tax liens.
  • There must be a valid certificate of occupancy (CO) or equivalent issued by the applicable town or village. Income verification (provide a copy of each property owner’s most recently filed federal income tax return).

If you have questions about how to upgrade or replace your septic system and need help with filings or grant applications, Walden will be happy to help you. Contact us at 516-624-7500 today.