Tag Archive | "water quality"

A New Look at Septic Systems

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sus pirana

Raun Norquist demonstrates Pirana septic system to officials earlier this year. Photo courtesy of danielgonzalezphotography.com.

By Stephen J. Kotz 

To hear Raun Norquist tell it, “we live in a flush and forget world and nobody wants to pay attention to the problem.”

Ms. Norquist, who now lives in Noyac not far from Sag Harbor Cove, in a house with an aging brick septic system built in the 1930s,  has been paying attention to that problem—the treatment of wastewater—for the better part of two decades.

“We need a paradigm shift in the way we think about treating our waste,” she said. Most methods “count on lots of water, and lots of space. And nobody is thinking about where we’re going to get it.”

Ms. Norquist represents a company called Pirana that was started by a California entrepreneur and inventor, Jerry Fife. It offers, she said, a simple method to boost the efficiency of a standard home septic system so that it releases much cleaner wastewater into the drainage field—the area surrounding the cesspool rings.

If such systems were to gain a foothold on Long Island, with its hundreds of thousands of private septic systems, there would be large scale reduction in groundwater pollution and leaching of septic waste into nearby surface waters, she said.

There would also be benefits to homeowners and local governments that must treat sludge from traditional systems.  “This system is digesting what you have on site,” Ms. Norquist said, noting that regular systems need to be pumped every few years. “Pumping is expensive, it stinks, and then you are shipping it down the road to be treated at a wastewater treatment plant.”

The secret to a cleaner system lies in introducing and cultivating a large number of voracious bacteria—far more than are found in a typical septic system—that gorge themselves on the stuff we don’t like to mention in polite company. The bacteria can survive aerobically (with oxygen) or anaerobically (without it). Because there are so many of the little critters, they flow with the wastewater into the drainage field. There, they help control the formation of  “biomat,” a sort of sludge formed by conventional anaerobic bacteria released by a traditional septic system and a major cause of failure.

The Pirana system that Ms. Norquist sells costs about $3,000. It consists of a 1-by-3-foot cylinder that is lowered into the existing septic tank. The cylinder has about 150 square feet of thin plastic lining coiled within it. That lining serves as a breeding ground for the bacteria that are introduced into the system in the form of a beeswax-like cake.  The final element is a small pump, which injects air into the system, to help the bacteria thrive.

Ms. Norquist said about eight years ago, she had one installed  in that 1930s-era septic system at her Noyac home, which was at the point of failure, and  within hours the odor was gone and within days the system was functioning properly again.

The system requires little in the way of maintenance, although she said people who shut their homes down in the winter would probably be wise to add bacteria each spring when they reopen it for the season. Although hardware stores typically carry bacteria additives for septic systems, Ms. Norquist said a quart added to a system each month would produce only a fraction of the bacteria that the Pirana system supports.

Ms. Norquist who had previously been involved with a company that used an earlier but more cumbersome technology to improve septic systems, eventually became a sales representative for the firm.

Now that East End communities have turned their attention to combating the pollution caused by wastewater, Ms. Norquist is hopeful they will at least be willing to give the Pirana system a try.

She recently had what she calls a “show and tell” at her home, to which she invited Southampton Town officials and pulled the lid off her own system and retrieved a sample from it. “It looks like pale tea, it has no odor and no particulates,” she boasted.

Not only can it work in home septic systems, but Ms. Norquist is starting a pilot program to work with the Sag Harbor sewage treatment plant that will involve setting up one of its smaller holding tanks with a Pirana system to reduce the amount of sludge that must be hauled away. “They are spending $80,000 to $100,000 to haul away sludge now,” she said.

She said she regretted that East Hampton Town decided to shut down its scavenger waste plant, which she said, would also have been a perfect facility for another pilot program.

“We’ve got to stop thinking about this heavy-handed, expensive way to find ways to force nature into doing what we want,” she said, “and let it do what it wants to do.”

For more information about Pirana systems, contact Ms. Norquist at raun@optonline.net .

CCOM Reports Water Tests

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Now in its second year, the Concerned Citizens of Montauk in partnership with the Surfrider Foundation’s nationwide Blue Water Task Force water quality testing program has been sampling Montauk and Amagansett water bodies for the bacteria enterococcus.

Each week trained volunteers collect and test samples from Ditch Plain, Lake Montauk and Fort Pond in Montauk and Fresh Pond in Amagansett and post the results on Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force portal.

In the most recent test results, collected during the week ending August 22, bacteria levels ranged from low to high at the 15 sites tested, with the highest levels reported at the Fort Pond launching ramp and East Creek in Lake Montauk. Medium levels of the bacteria were found on the Industrial Road side of Fort Pond and Little Reed Pond Creek near Lake Montauk, with all other tested sites showing little or no bacteria.

Senator LaValle and Assemblyman Thiele Address Concerns in Noyac

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President of the Noyac Civic Council Elena Loreta, left, and New York State Senator Ken LaValle in a meeting on Tuesday, July 8. Photo by Mara Certic

By Mara Certic

New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle and Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. were special guests at the monthly meeting of the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday, July 8, where they spoke to their East End constituents about local concerns.

“I have a slogan,” began the senator, who arrived wearing his trademark baseball cap. “First district first,” he said. “If you look at the legislation that Fred and I have introduced, easily 50 percent of it deals with local issues and local problems.”

Both the senator and the assemblyman said they were pleased to see so many other elected officials at the Old Noyac Schoolhouse that night; Southampton Town Board members Bridget Fleming, Christine Scalera and Brad Bender were present, as well as newly elected North Haven Village Trustee Thomas J. Schiavoni.

“We spend a lot of time talking to people and listening to people,” the senator said as he mentioned one of his mother’s favorite sayings: God gave you two ears and one mouth and he did that for a reason: so listen!”

Senator LaValle and Assemblyman Thiele answered questions about topics ranging from gas prices to speed cameras, but most of the meeting was spent discussing taxes, education and water quality.

“One of the things I felt is that taxes are too high, property taxes in particular,” said Senator LaValle. “So we passed a multi-year plan,” he said in reference to the state-mandated two-percent tax levy cap that went into effect three years ago.

“You’re all familiar with the property tax cap and quite frankly it’s not perfect,” Assemblyman Thiele said. “But I think it’s worked very well.”

The tax cap was coupled with a tax freeze for the next two years, he explained, and residents of Sag Harbor will receive a tax rebate check this year. In future years, he explained, a tax credit will be given to those who live in a school district that does not pierce the tax cap.

Next year not only will the town, the school district and the county all have to meet the cap, but they will also have to submit a government efficiency plan to reduce the tax levy by 1 percent over the following two years. These plans will have to be approved by the state, the assemblyman said.

“Southampton and Tuckahoe are exploring the idea of consolidation,” he said of the neighboring school districts. “That might qualify for a government efficiency plan.”

“All of us agree that our schools should seek to have higher standards, we have to compete in a global economy now,” he said. That being said, Mr. Thiele quoted a colleague of his in the Assembly who said that “the Titanic had a better roll-out than Common Core.”

Mr. Thiele went on to say that he believed that the implementation of the Common Core this year was “a failure.”

“It was implemented from an ivory tower in a top-down fashion that didn’t take into account parents or teachers,” he said, adding that it should have been put in place “from the ground up.”

“The last thing that both Fred and I were very, very busy with,” Mr. LaValle said, “is the protection of our groundwater and surface water.”

The two men have spent the past year working on legislation called the “Long Island Water Quality Control Act.”

“In spite of all our best efforts we’re still seeing a decline in water quality,” said the assemblyman, who is in part responsible for the creation of the Peconic Estuary Program.

Previous legislation, he said, had focused on regulations for “future land use” when town land was split evenly in three: vacant, occupied and protected.

Today, he said, less than 10 percent of the land in Southampton and East Hampton is unspoken for. “If we’re going to change the issue, we need to change how we treat existing land uses. That’s how we’re going to make a difference and that’s what this legislation seeks to do.”

The two men lauded Southampton Town for the leadership role it has taken regarding research into new technology and alternative septic systems. The two state officials had a meeting organized for the following day at Stony Brook University about creating such new technology.

“We all want to see clean drinking water, but if you tell people they’re going to have to pay $25,000 to $30,000, people can’t afford that expenditure. The technology has to be evolved,” Mr. Thiele said. “Clean water is not just an issue on Long Island, it’s an issue globally.” He said he hopes that Suffolk County can become an incubator for water-quality technology, which would also create high-paying jobs, he said.

Mr. Thiele heard from the DEC, he said, that Governor Cuomo plans to release his own report on water quality in the next two to three weeks. “When he wants to do something, he’s going to take center stage. Nobody preempts the governor.”

Mr. Thiele encouraged Noyackers to write to the DEC about wells that monitor water quality near sand mines, such as Sand Land off Millstone Road in Noyac. In light of a recent ruling that instilled home-rule powers in upstate New York over hydrofracking, Mr. Thiele suggested that local officials might have an existing authority to mandate the monitoring by local law.

The Noyac Civic Council meets next on Tuesday, August 12, at the Bridgehampton Nutrition Center when Congressman Tim Bishop will attend to answer questions about the Federal Aviation Administration. Elena Loreto, president of the council, reminded residents to report disruptive aircraft noise and to send letters to the FAA in the next week to ensure that helicopters continue to follow the North Shore over-the-water route. Senator LaValle and Assemblyman Thiele said that they, too, would contact the FAA.

“We wrote to them before and we’ll be happy to do it again,” said Mr. Thiele. “We have supported this for quite a while.”



Residents Demand Southampton Town Continue Testing Water at The Bridge

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As the golf season on the South Fork slowly winds down, and many courses begin to see a decline in participants with the increasingly cooler autumn season, studies surrounding one particular course in Noyac are continuing with tests that measure the quality of the groundwater and the impact on the community.
Since 1998, the Bridge Golf Course on Millstone Road has been the focus of studies that test the groundwater beneath the course to insure contaminants such as pesticides and herbicides used at the course do not travel off site. On Tuesday the Southampton Town Board adopted a resolution to continue their contract with Martin Petrovic, who has been performing quarterly studies of the water quality at the site for a number of years.
“It was appropriate to continue these reports for the possibility of ground water contamination,” said councilman Chris Nuzzi .
At the meeting no results from the study were released. Critics argue that these studies should be posted on the Southampton Town website. They were until 2006, but for the last two years the results of the studies have not been made public.
Julie Penny, co-chair of the South Fork Groundwater Task Force, said she is frustrated because she and members of the Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) have asked that the results be posted online and Southampton Town agreed to do it.
“They aren’t mandated by law to do it, but they said they would,” said Penny on Tuesday.
The town’s website displays the results from 2002 to 2006 but Penny says that the town never posted the baseline test results, which would show the level of contaminants in the water before the new golf course was created.
“We wanted them to start from the baseline in 1998, where there were no contaminants whatsoever,” Penny said. “And you can see over the years that the nitrates have increased and there has been some pesticides in the water, it would be good to see the trajectory of things through the years.”
The Bridge golf course is a 516-acre parcel of land in Bridgehampton that overlies the sole source of Noyac’s drinking water. This, according to Penny, is the purest, largest, deepest recharge area available on the South Fork, and contains 80 billion gallons of fresh water.
According to Penny the legal level of nitrates that are allowed by law in the groundwater are 10 parts per million (ppm), but she says that the Suffolk County Water Authority changes their filters when the nitrate level reaches 5 ppm.
“No one has proved this level of nitrates is healthy for you – but they should – it is frightening and we should keep better track of it,” Penny said. “I used to make charts and have bar graphs where people could see what was in the water. People that surround the golf course should know – we should all be able to know.”
Penny believes that numbers showing nitrate levels and pesticides in the water should be readily available.
“The fact that they haven’t posted any results makes me feel that they may have something shocking to post,” she said.