Long Island environmental advocates Saturday hailed a state court ruling that found the Department of Environmental Conservation has failed to properly oversee municipal stormwater runoff, considered a top cause of beach closures and waterway pollution.

In a ruling unsealed last week, Westchester Supreme Court Justice Joan Lefkowitz found the DEC's process for regulating stormwater did not comply with the federal Clean Water Act and must be revised.

When it rains, pollutants from streets, rooftops and chemically treated lawns flow into sewer systems, which then drain into local waterways.

The result, said Kevin McAllister, president of Peconic Baykeeper, a nonprofit that monitors Long Island waterways, are beaches and shellfish beds contaminated with bacteria.

"Stormwater runoff has been a big problem when you consider the suburbanization of Long Island," he said.

Environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed suit against the state in June 2010, arguing that its permit process failed to reduce urban runoff.

The state issues one permit to each municipality -- with the exception of New York City, which has its own oversight process -- allowing them to self-certify their stormwater pollution control measures.

"One size does not fit all with these permits," McAllister said. "Southold will have different issues than Huntington."

Lefkowitz ordered the state to rewrite the permit to include more oversight, stricter compliance with schedules to reduce runoff and more public participation in permit hearings.

The DEC is "reviewing the decision and determining our next steps," said spokeswoman Charsleissa King.

Environmental advocates contend that reducing stormwater runoff will also have an economic impact on Long Island. The Natural Resources Defense Council has found urban runoff is the leading cause of beach closings and advisories, costing Long Island more than $60 million in 2007.

"Stormwater is certainly a major problem," said James Ammerman, director of New York Sea Grant. "Anything we can do to deal with it is a good thing."

John German, president of the Long Island Sound Lobsterman's Association, said stormwater reduction measures have left water too sterile. "It's about developing an eco-management system," he said. "If you do one thing, it affects another."

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