New York Springs Into Action on State Park Cesspools

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) – New York state has agreed to pay a $150,000 fine for its years-long delay in closing more than 50 large-capacity cesspools located in state parks.

The settlement puts to rest a simultaneously filed federal complaint by the United States under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which required the closure of all large-capacity cesspools nationwide by April 5, 2005.

“New York State Parks is committed to assuring that every facility meets all environmental standards,” said Randy Simons, an spokesman for the state Department of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. “As soon as State Parks became aware in 2013, and before any involvement from EPA, we immediately investigated. State Parks worked aggressively to identify and upgrade outdated septic systems and have already completed upgrades at six state parks. We will continue these extensive upgrades to replace all septic systems statewide by 2019. There has been no evidence the systems led to any impact on drinking water or the environment.”

State Parks has already directed $15 million from its capital budget to bring all of the systems into compliance, Simons added, noting that bringing the aging infrastructure up to code has been part of the ongoing revitalization and restoration efforts since 2012.

Environmental Protection Agency literature notes that large-capacity cesspools receive untreated sanitary waste, including human excreta, with the capacity to service 20 or more people a day. It has an open bottom and perforated sides. Untreated waste is high in harmful nutrients, such as nitrogen, that can compromise ground and surface water quality.

EPA officials say nutrient pollution of the ground and surface waters is a longstanding problem in and around Suffolk County, threatening the area’s water quality and ecosystem.

The United States filed the complaint in connection to Tuesday’s settlement in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York – the home for federal cases involving Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Under the agreement, New York has agreed to close or convert all cesspools by July 2019. The estimated cost of these measures is $8.8 million.

“Public parks and water pollution don’t go together,” EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck said in a statement. “After years of being out of compliance with federal law, New York State will finally close the numerous cesspools found in state parks, helping protect groundwater from nitrogen and other pollutants.”

Thirty-six of the cesspools are above the Nassau-Suffolk Aquifer, which supplies most of the drinking water for Long Island residents.

Nine are located in Broome and Orange Counties, with others in Clinton, Columbia, Rensselaer and Schoharie Counties.

The state will also undertake Supplemental Environmental Projects with a total estimated value of $1.2 million, with the intention of reducing the quantity of harmful nutrients, including nitrogen, from entering the local groundwater at seven Long Island parks.