The public will get its chance to air questions and concerns about East Hampton Town’s recently released Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan starting on September 23.
Based on preliminary research done at 18,000 properties in the town, as well as its water bodies, the plan outlines what properties have failing septic systems and what water bodies have excess nutrients. The plan suggests short-term and long-term fixes to restore impaired water quality and correct malfunctioning wastewater systems.
According to the town’s Department of Natural Resources Director Kim Shaw, the management plan will get the town on track as an environmental leader on Long Island.
“In environmental initiatives, East Hampton was always the first one out the door with cutting-edge stuff,” she said on Monday. “The management plan gives us a baseline to actually implement something and to correct problems.”
Working lot by lot, Lombardo Associates, which was hired by the Town Board to complete a comprehensive study on wastewater management, determined types of problems stemming from properties and where wastewater flow comes from.
According to the analysis, for example, 97 percent of properties along the southern end of Three Mile Harbor and 90 percent of the properties at and surrounding the Montauk docks have wastewater issues, like needing upgrades of their septic systems. The study also notes that 10 properties at the docks account for 60 percent of the wastewater flow, for example. Each watershed and the properties that feed into it are addressed in the report.
Pio Lombardo of Lombardo Associates said while his team and the town know what properties are affected by poor water quality or may be contributing to high nitrogen or phosphorous levels, they do not know to what extent. That information would be gleaned through scientific studies that Mr. Lombardo said should be done in conjunction with short-term fixes.
In the short term, he and Ms. Shaw are enthusiastic about the possibility of using “permeable reactive barriers” or PRBs, which, when installed in the ground, can remove significant amounts of nitrogen from the groundwater discharge on certain properties, running it through reactive materials and, in essence, treating it in the ground.
According to Mr. Lombardo, installing the PRBs is much more cost-efficient than updating septic systems. When using a PRB, the cost of updating septic systems can go down as much as $10,000 for just one property, he said. He and the others suggested putting PRBs on properties surrounding Georgica and Hook ponds, for instance.
“PRBs, in my opinion, are the critical silver bullet if there is one to deal with these ponds,” he said. “Until the loads to the ponds get reduced, it will be hard to restore water quality.”
Mr. Lombardo’s study breaks down each area by how many properties are within it, the gallons per day of wastewater flow, and how much he would budget for water quality work there. He said, for example, the Montauk dock area work could cost as much as $18 million, give or take.
With this in mind, Ms. Shaw said the town is looking for grant and funding opportunities to pay for the PRBs, as well as to pay for neighborhood wastewater systems and to help individual property owners afford septic system upgrades.
New treatment systems and the engineering that will be required for them are further down the line, but to prepare for them, Mr. Lombardo said, the town needs to undertake in-depth studies to understand how best to improve water quality and where, which means that projected costs for these undertakings are very loose.
“This is not a short-term fix,” Ms. Shaw said. “We knew we would be looking out 10 or 15 years in, even implementing [some of the recommendations]. The low-hanging fruit are the permeable reactive barriers, and for the longer term it’s getting financing for corrective action in priority areas in East Hampton.”
The first public meeting to discuss the plan is on Tuesday, September 23, at 10 a.m. at the Emergency Services Building on Cedar Street in East Hampton. A second will be held on Tuesday, October 14, at 10 a.m. at the Montauk Firehouse on Edgemere Street during the Town Board work session at 10 a.m.