Dive deeper into wallets for cleaner water

Dive deeper into wallets for cleaner water

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Discharging homes’ wastewater into sewer systems could keep harmful substances out of our water supply. File photo

Our water supply is pooped.

Hundreds of thousands of homes in Suffolk County run on their own septic systems or cesspools, which leak nitrogen from waste into the soil and, thus, into our groundwater and other water sources. Elevated nitrogen levels are dangerous because they mess with our ecosystem — one effect is promoting algae growth, which decreases the water’s oxygen supply that fish and other creatures need to live and produces toxins and bacteria that are harmful to humans.

Sewers are a more convenient and modern technology for areas with populations at least as dense as Suffolk County. But, more importantly, sewer systems are also a crucial line of defense for our drinking water and the healthy waterways we treasure.

Legislators and community members complain all the time about how Suffolk needs to hook up more properties to sewer systems, but they also say there’s no money to do it. County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposal to charge an additional $1 per 1,000 gallons of water used — and to put those dollars into a special account dedicated to sewering Suffolk — could help.

The funds collected would be used in conjunction with other funding, such as from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $383 million initiative to support clean water infrastructure.

To put Bellone’s proposed surcharge into perspective, that’s $1 for every 50 days of showers for a family of four, based on average water usage numbers from the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s another $1 for roughly every 333 toilet flushes. Add $1 for every 40 loads of laundry in a newer model of washing machine.

For a single-person measurement, each person uses about 80-100 gallons of water each day, according to the federal agency. Those on the higher end of the spectrum, then, would be dishing out $1 every 10 days with the goal of a healthier environment — or just shy of $37 a year.

Reaching deeper into taxpayers’ pockets is not ideal, but there is simply no other way to produce sewer funding of the magnitude Suffolk County needs without asking the public to chip in somehow.

Bellone’s proposal needs state approval before the measure can go onto ballots in November for voters to weigh in. We hope our neighbors would support the surcharge.