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Great Neck Villages Address Sewer Issue

Local officials discuss the operation of separate storm water systems

It might not be the most interesting, eye-catching topic, but storm sewer systems and their regulations are important to each municipality that operates its own separate storm sewer system. And at the Great Neck Village Officials meeting last Wednesday evening, April 25, the peninsula’s mayors and trustees were offered an overview of the operations of such systems and what is required of each system. Eileen Keenan, manager of the NY Sea Grant NEMO Program, briefed the local officials on the MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer system), the regulations, basic requirements, effectiveness evaluation and special requirements relating to impaired water bodies in the area.

Essentially, even though some funding is occasionally available through the state and the federal government, all of these regulations are pretty much government-created unfunded mandates, resulting in much work and the outlay of large sums of money by local governments. Increasingly, over the last two years, there has been a greatly increased level of compliance oversight by government agencies and by members of the public. It has become a major expense for small villages.

Ms. Keenan, who was joined by Jennifer Wilson Pines, executive director of the Manhasset Bay Protection Committee, said that she works with research and educational programs all over the country, assisting in coastal areas. Ms. Keenan works closely with the Department of Environmental Conservation and she is actually under contract to the DEC to offer support to Long Island communities. She first emphasized the importance of communities working together, utilizing inter-municipal approaches. Ms. Pines added that small parcels of land must be looked at too. “The villages can do a lot together,” Ms. Pines said.

Explaining the overall process, Ms. Keenan said that municipalities that operate separate storm sewer systems are subject to state and federal storm water regulations knows as the MS4 regs. Nearly all Long Island municipalities became subject to the MS4 regs in 2003. These regulations require municipalities to implement storm water management programs designed to reduce or prevent the discharge of contaminants from their storm sewer systems and to document, evaluate and report on their storm water programs. These regulations were developed from amendments to the federal government’s Clean Water Act, and so are enforced not just by the state DEC, but also via the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, members of the public are permitted to bring lawsuits to compel enforcement.

MS4 requirements include educating and involving the public, addressing the impacts that can be caused by construction and development, and reducing the contaminants that can be generated by municipalities and their operations.

And while local governments are absorbed with meeting the MS4 requirements, individuals can make a difference too. Both Ms. Keenan and Ms. Pines said there is much the average person can do. They explained that storm water runoff is precipitation from rain or melted snow that flows over the ground. As it flows, it can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt and other pollutants and deposit them into a storm sewer system or water body. Anything that enters a storm sewer system is discharged untreated into the water bodies that the public uses for swimming, fishing and providing drinking water.

To keep the storm water leaving a home or work place clean, there are several guidelines to follow. Pesticides and fertilizers should be used sparingly. Auto leaks should be quickly repaired. Residents should be asked to dispose of household hazardous waste, used auto fluids (antifreeze, oil, etc.) and batteries at designated collection or recycling sites. Everyone should be reminded to always clean up after a pet. Car owners are advised to use a commercial car wash or to wash their car on a lawn or other unpaved surface. Homeowners are advised to sweep up yard debris rather than hosing down such areas; they are asked to compost or recycle yard waste whenever possible. Those cleaning paintbrushes are asked to clean them in a sink, not outdoors, and to properly dispose of excess paints through a household hazardous waste collection program. As for construction debris like concrete and mortar, everyone is asked to sweep up and properly dispose of these materials.

With the great burden of compliance on the local municipalities, a little help from all residents can go a long way in making the load of work a bit lighter.