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Group: Tighten East End wastewater permits

Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister and other environmental officials

Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister and other environmental officials speak at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge about the decline in local waters. (Sept. 18, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

A Quogue-based environmental group has asked the state to limit nitrogen levels in East End waterways by tightening permits for more than 1,100 septic systems and sewage treatment plants.

Peconic Baykeeper late Monday petitioned the Department of Environmental Conservation to enforce more stringent nitrogen limits for ponds, rivers, creeks, harbors, bays and other coastal waters of eastern Suffolk County. High nitrogen levels can trigger toxic algal blooms, kill fish, damage aquatic vegetation and cloud the water.

"Freshwater bodies are being choked out," group president Kevin McAllister said.

The petition also asks for nitrogen discharge limits be set for wastewater systems that do not already have caps and for the length of state permits to be reduced to 5 years from 10. It cites 1,138 septic systems and sewage treatment plants, including those for restaurants, hospitals, fire houses and apartment complexes.

DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said in a statement that the agency "takes both petitions and wastewater treatment issues very seriously" but the petition needed to be reviewed before the agency commented on its specifics.

New York requires permits for building or operating sewage treatment plants and building or using pipes that release waste into surface water or groundwater, according to DEC website. The program is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as complying with the Clean Water Act, which regulates pollution and sets surface water standards.

The law requires states to periodically report about "impaired waters" that are fouled by pollutants.

In 2010, 34 water bodies in Suffolk were on the list of "impaired waters" and required a plan to reduce contamination. The proposed 2012 list includes 43 bodies of water in Suffolk, according to Peconic Baykeeper.

"Virtually all the coastal waters in Suffolk County are impaired by this," said Reed Super, an attorney who represents Peconic Baykeeper.

The group also wants the county, which administers wastewater permits, to require treatment systems that reduce nitrogen levels to the lowest level possible."The technology is on the market," McAllister said. "They've got to start requiring it."

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