The Peconic Baykeeper organization has taken legal action against the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation over what it says are more than 1,400 septic systems and sewage treatment plants across Suffolk County that are not being held to environmental standards.
Permits issued by the D.E.C. for those systems are deficient, the organization claims, in that they fail to require the facilities to limit nitrogen emissions or do not contain requirements that the facilities meet the minimum standards for emissions set by the federal Clean Water Act and administered by the state and county for discharges into drinking or surface waters.
Kevin McAllister, the Peconic Baykeeper, said this week that the organization had submitted information to the D.E.C. in September after reviewing public records to compile a list of the allegedly deficient permits.
Since 2005, Mr. McAllister said, the organization has focused on the significant impact that septic waste and nitrogen in treated wastewater released into the environment are having on drinking water supplies and open water bodies.
The number of fresh and saltwater bodies deemed “impaired” by the state based on their level of pollutants has been steadily increasing, he said on Tuesday. “I don’t care where you live in this county,” he said, “you’re probably within a mile or two of impaired waters.”
In East Hampton, permits for three wastewater treatment plants — those at the Rough Riders condominiums and the Montauk Manor in Montauk and the town’s scavenger waste plant in East Hampton, which is currently off line — and for approximately 40 individual septic systems that discharge more than 1,000 gallons of wastewater per day were called into question in a lawsuit filed by the Peconic Baykeeper in State Supreme Court.
Among the individual systems are those at the Montauk Yacht Club, Gurney’s Inn, the Amagansett East Side Tennis Club, the Montauk Shores condominiums, the Coast Guard station in Montauk, and the Montauk Downs State Park.
Countywide, the Baykeeper said in the Article 78 lawsuit, there are 79 sewage treatment plants and 1,338 septic systems that should be held to tighter standards by the D.E.C.
A legal action filed in federal court under the Clean Water Act names additional facilities, including a number of state parks and the Stony Brook Southampton campus.
“It’s not noncompliance as much as non-enforcement,” Mr. McAllister said of the permit holders. The state and county, he said, “are not administering the law properly.”
The lawsuit seeks to force the D.E.C. to modify the permits it issues for sewage treatment plants and septic systems that discharge into groundwater “that is hydrologically connected to surface waters” so as to limit nitrogen emissions to levels that will not “result in growths of algae, weeds, and slimes that will impair the waters for their best usages,” as described in a statewide water quality standard. They also asked that permits be modified, with stringent emissions standards imposed, for those that discharge into “nitrogen-impaired surface waters” or to groundwater with water quality deemed “poor” or “unacceptable” based on nitrogen levels.
“What we’re trying to do is move these facilities to incorporate the best available technology,” said Mr. McAlllister in a phone interview on Tuesday.
Nitrex, one wastewater treatment system approved for use in Suffolk County, treats wastewater to a level where there are only 3 parts per million of total nitrates, he said, while other approved, conventional systems in use result in 60 to 70 parts per million of nitrates in what is discharged into the ground or water.
“I’ve been fighting to introduce these technologies in some of the developments on Long Island,” Mr. McAllister said of the more effective treatment. “We’ve got to really start introducing advanced treatments at the highest level of performance.”
And, he said, “we need the mandates that say, ‘no, your discharge will not exceed this level.’ ”
The Peconic Baykeeper “believes litigation and more aggressive advocacy is necessary,” Mr. McAllister said. “There’s urgency now. We’re at a juncture in time that we need bold actions.”