Frequently Asked Questions About the Clean Water Septic Technology and Grant Program

What is the Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIP)?

The North Shore Land Alliance’s Water Quality Improvement Program is designed to help jumpstart the transition to clean-water septic technology by removing roadblocks that many homeowners and small business owners face in trying to pay for and install these systems. To do this, the Land Alliance’s water quality improvement coordinator helps homeowners and small business owners through the clean-water septic system grant application and permitting process in both Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

What are the advantages of clean-water septic systems?

Nitrogen-reducing, clean water septic systems have benefits for all Long Islanders and for individual home and business owners, too. To understand these benefits, you first have to understand the problems caused by conventional septic systems and cesspools. Conventional, polluting systems release nitrogen into our groundwater, which then flows into our drinking water and into our rivers, lakes, bays, and harbors. Nitrogen pollution from wastewater is the number one cause of the harmful algal blooms (HABs) and fishkills that are becoming more and more common in and around Long Island each year. HABs are also endangering our shellfish populations. By replacing polluting septic systems with clean water models that can remove as much as 90% of nitrogen from wastewater, we can protect and restore our water and our coastal ecosystems. That, in turn, can improve Long Island’s economy and increase the value of individual homes.

In fact, new research shows that, every year, the Long Island Sound basin alone provides between $17 billion to $37 billion in what are called ecosystem services—the benefits that natural systems offer to us humans. Clean-water septic systems help to protect those ecosystem services. For homeowners and business owners, clean water septic systems have many economic benefits. The first one is durability. Conventional systems are usually made out of steel and, because steel can rust, they generally fail after 10 to 20 years. Clean-water systems are built out of long-lasting fiberglass. This helps them resist rust. They can last for 40 years or more. Conventional septic systems are also more likely to fail and usually need more pumping and maintenance, meaning their long-term costs are higher. Clean-water septic systems can even increase the value of a home. One recent study showed homes in the northeastern United States that used clean water septic systems sold for 13% to 19% more than similar homes that used conventional septic systems.

How do clean-water septic systems work?

To understand this, you first have to know how conventional systems work. A conventional system drains raw sewage from a residence into a septic tank. As the solids settle out, the nitrogen-rich liquids flow into a leaching pool or into cesspool rings that distribute liquids into the ground. Clean-water add an extra step. Special bacteria convert the harmful nitrogen in our wastewater into problem-free nitrogen gas that is released, harmlessly, into the air.

How does nitrogen affect water in and around Long Island?

For the last few decades, nitrogen pollution from wastewater has threatened native species and increased the number and size of harmful algal blooms in and around Long Island. In fact, nitrogen pollution from septic systems and cesspools contributes more than half of all nitrogen pollution found in Long Island’s waters. It is the number one cause of harmful algae blooms, fish kills, thick mats of seaweed, and the decline of a once-thriving shellfish industry. By switching to a clean-water septic system, you can help protect and restore our water, our economy, and our Long Island way of life.

Who is eligible to apply for a septic replacement grant?

Nassau and Suffolk County homeowners and small business owners interested in applying for septic replacement grants have to meet the following requirements:
• Homes must be served by a septic system or cesspool and not connected to a sewer system or located inside a proposed sewer district.
• Homeowners must live in an existing home. New construction on vacant lots is not eligible.
• Homeowners must have paid all property tax liens.
• There must be a valid certificate of occupancy (CO) or equivalent issued by the town or village where the home is located.
• Property owners must provide a copy of each owner’s most recent federal income tax return.

What documents are needed to apply for a septic improvement grant:

• Copy of property deed.
• Proof of homeowner’s insurance.
• Copy of most recent property tax bill.

What costs are eligible for reimbursement through this program?

To be eligible for reimbursement, an incurred cost must be reasonable and necessary for work done to a septic system if it is determined by the County Health Department or other authorized agent that such septic system is failing or reasonably likely to fail prior to any repairs, or such system has received a Notice of Violation or Notice of Failure prior to any repairs. Eligible costs are listed below:
• Design and installation costs, and costs of the system, system components, or enhanced treatment technologies.
• Design costs are eligible, limited only to work needed to complete an approved design, including needed site investigation.

What costs are ineligible for reimbursement through this program?

• Routine maintenance such as a pump out of a septic tank.
• Any expenses that are not appropriately documented
• Government permit fees, including but not limited to fees assessed for building permits, zoning permits, and floodplain disturbance permits
• Interest and late fees
• Fines and penalties
• The payment of sales tax
• Non-essential site beautification or interior plumbing changes
• Administrative work conducted by the engineer
• Construction observation by the engineer if the engineer, or an entity owned, controlled by, or employing the engineer, is also conducting the repair or replacement.

These additional state, county, or local government programs can help homeowners reduce the cost of replacing septic systems and cesspools