Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a comprehensive $75 million program to improve water quality through the targeted replacement of aging septic systems in communities across New York. Through a collaboration between the State Departments of Environmental Conservation and Health, and the Environmental Facilities Corporation, the state will support the new program in 31 counties with $15 million during its first year.
"Protecting water quality is vital to the health and future growth of our communities," Governor Cuomo said. "This program builds on this administration's efforts to upgrade and improve water infrastructure across the state and help protect New York's lakes, streams and other environmental resources."
The Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017, championed by Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature, established the State Septic System Replacement Fund and allocated $75 million to support the multi-year effort. The program provides resources to counties to support the replacement of aging septic systems and other wastewater infrastructure that can harm water quality by releasing pathogens or nutrient pollution such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
Through this program, the state will provide funds to counties to reimburse eligible property owners for a portion of the cost of replacing failing septic systems and installing more environmentally effective systems. Eligible property owners can be reimbursed up to 50 percent of eligible costs up to $10,000. Counties may also set graduated incentive reimbursement rates for septic system projects to maximize program participation and pollution reduction goals.
A list of eligible counties, priority geographic areas within those counties and first year funding allocations is available here.
"With this vital funding, Governor Cuomo is helping local communities and property owners make smart investments to improve water quality," said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. "Aging and failing septic systems contribute to water quality impairments that cause harmful algal blooms and threaten drinking water, tourism and recreation throughout New York, and the State Septic System Replacement Fund will strategically target priority areas to implement upgrades that have the greatest potential to improve water quality."
"Governor Cuomo's commitment to the protection of New York's water resources continues with today's announcement of the first round of funding under the State Septic System Replacement Fund," said Sabrina M. Ty, President and CEO of the Environmental Facilities Corporation. "EFC is proud to provide support to this important program and ensure that the funding for the installation, replacement or upgrade of their septic systems reaches these communities as quickly as possible."
To guide the funding and maximize water quality improvements, DEC and DOH identified an initial suite of priority areas eligible to participate in the State Septic Replacement Program based on the presence of a sole-source aquifer used for drinking water, known water quality impairment linked to failing septic systems, and the ability for septic system upgrades to mitigate water quality impairments. Funding for each county was based on population density, as well as the proximity of septic systems to drinking water sources. EFC will be providing detailed information on accessing this funding to the counties with identified priority areas, and future rounds of funding will occur annually for up to five years. DEC and DOH will re-evaluate priority waterbodies in the future which may make additional counties or areas eligible for grants, and additional funding will be available to support the replacement program.
New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "Replacing outdated infrastructure safeguards public health from compromised and failing systems. Governor Cuomo's State Septic System Replacement Fund will allow targeted areas statewide to begin upgrades aimed at protecting New York's beautiful water bodies and ensuring continued access to clean drinking water."
In Upstate New York, septic systems that are failing or are likely to fail and are located near the priority waterbodies are eligible to participate in the program. Additional prioritization in Nassau and Suffolk counties will target funding to projects near drinking water wells and impaired surface waterbodies. In addition, septic systems in Long Island must reduce nitrogen levels by at least 30 percent.
Senator Tom O'Mara, Chair of Senate Environmental Conservation Committee said, "The establishment and implementation of the Septic System Replacement Fund will provide important funding to counties to undertake these critical water quality projects. It's a short- and long-term investment initiative that will benefit local communities, local property taxpayers, and local environments."
Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation "The Septic System Replacement Fund that I helped create is an important step in helping to protect the State's water quality. Reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus coming from failing septic systems will result in improved water quality and fewer instances of harmful algal blooms and closed beaches. Especially in places like Long Island, where communities are served by a sole-source aquifer, these funds are essential to the health and vitality of the region. I thank the Governor for working with the Legislature to address this issue."
Stephen J. Acquario, Esq., Executive Director, Association of Counties said, "The $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 provides much-needed financial support to counties to address our aging water infrastructure. We commend the Governor and Legislature for including a $75 million Septic System Replacement Fund to help homeowners with the cost of replacing failing septic systems. These upgrades will help to protect our residents and environment by keeping our drinking water and waterbodies safe. We thank the Department of Environmental Conservation for ensuring that all counties selected for the first round of funding will be eligible to participate. "
Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment said, "In 2018, we are finally beginning to treat individual homeowners' sewage and not just letting it drain into the ground where it travels to drinking water and coastal waters. Current science tells us that replacing cesspools and failing septic is an urgent need for restoration and protection of our valuable water resources. State grants to counties is essential to help the public utilize the new technology."
Jessica Ottney Mahar, policy director for The Nature Conservancy in New York said, "The Nature Conservancy applauds Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature for creating a historic $2.5 billion water quality improvement fund. Today's commitment of $15 million of a $75 million septic system rebate and replacement program will allow homeowners to upgrade their cesspools and conventional septic systems, which do not remove harmful nitrogen from household wastewater. These upgrades will improve water quality, public health, the economy and quality of life—especially in water-dependent areas of New York including Long Island, Finger Lakes, the Thousand Islands and the Adirondacks. We appreciate the Governor's leadership on this issue and look forward to assisting municipalities in its implementation."