Open Water Dumping Threatens Long Island Sound

While dredging is necessary to maintain navigable waterways and harbors, open water dumping of dredged material is unnecessary and dangerous. Dredged material contains varying amounts of hazardous constituents including mercury, lead, copper, PCBs, and pesticides. Research shows that dredged material also contains large quantities of organic plant matter, which contribute significantly to excess nitrogen pollution entering the Sound.

In the spring of 2005, the Governors of New York and Connecticut signed an agreement to phase out the open water disposal of contaminated dredged material into Long Island Sound. This was an important victory for Long Island Sound as well as the citizens of New York and Connecticut. This bi-state agreement called for the development of a Dredged Material Management Plan (DMMP) for Long Island Sound that focuses on alternative technologies for dredged material and establishes the phase-out of open water dumping.

Proposed Site Designations

The EPA analyzed four sites to be utilized as long-term dumpsites for dredged material in the Long Island Sound. The first two sites, considered in 2004 by the EPA and the USACE, were the Western Long Island Sound Disposal Site(WLDS) and the Central Long Island Sound Disposal Site (CLDS).

The WLDS site was located only 2.7 miles from the shoreline and has already received 1.9 million cubic yards of dredged material. It was once a prime lobster producing area, but lobster populations have declined significantly over the last decade. The CLDS is between New Haven, CT and Riverhead, NY and has already received close to 14 million cubic yards of dredged material. Higher levels of toxic waste and problems with low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia) are found in and near these sites.

Beneficial Reuse: An Environmentally-Sound Alternative

Dredged material can be reused! Modern dredge waste management approaches view dredged material as a resource, rather than a waste product. "Beneficial reuse" means that the material collected during routine dredging operations is used in environmentally benign or beneficial ways. These techniques include, but are not limited to, beach nourishment, restoring tidal wetlands, capping landfills, and filling in abandoned mines. Other management approaches include the use of Confined Disposal Facilities (CFDs) which can be used to store and de-contaminate large volumes of dredged sediment.

DMMP: A 30 Year Dumping Plan for LIS

The 2005 agreement between NY and CT to end open water dumping called for the development of a DMMP that emphasized beneficial reuse and eliminate the need for open water disposal. Unfortunately, the draft DMMP release by USACE in August of 2015 represents a "business as usual" approach that focuses primarily on the cheapest and most convenient disposal methods. The document fails to recognize the environmental impacts of open water dumping and the economic impacts dumping will have on the region. Major problems with the draft DMMP include:

  • Fails to evaluate additional nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen pollution in LIS contributes to fish kills and algal blooms, and millions of dollars have already been spent to reduce nitrogen in the Sound. In other estuaries, open water dumping of dredged material has contributed significantly to nitrogen loading.

  • Fails to address impacts of toxic contamination. Studies show contaminants have already been detected within and around the disposal sites, including elevated PCBs in fish and elevated copper levels in lobsters. USACE fails to address how dumping 30-50 million cubic yards of additional sediment will not add to this contamination.

  • Ignores important beneficial reuse options. Beneficial reuse options such as beach nourishment, constructing wetlands, capping landfills and brownfield sites, and filling in abandoned mines were blatantly ignored in throughout the draft plan.

Links and CCE Comments

The draft DMMP and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was released on August 17, 2015.

CCE's public testimony on the draft DMMP and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement

EPA's Dredged Material Management Plan website