LONG ISLAND SOUND PROTECTION
As an Estuary of National Significance, the immense value of the Long Island Sound (LIS) cannot be overstated. Twenty million people live within 50 miles of the Sound's beaches. Residents of Connecticut and New York depend on the Sound for recreational opportunities, fishing, sailing, and swimming. The Sound is also a critical component to a healthy regional economy, generating between $17 and $37 billion annually. Despite the Sound's immense environmental and economic value, the health of LIS is threatened by pollution, habitat destruction, and invasive species. Efforts to protect and restore the Sound have made meaningful progress, yet we still have much to do to restore this amazing ecosystem for current and future generations.
Progress Has Been Made
Achieving Nitrogen Reduction Goals
To reduce nitrogen in Long Island Sound, the states of Connecticut and New York, along with EPA, adopted a nitrogen reduction target of 58.5% by 2017 from early 1990s baseline levels. This plan is known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested to reduce nitrogen by upgrading wastewater treatment plants that discharge nitrogen into local waterbodies. As of 2016, both the New York and Connecticut nitrogen loads were below the Waste Load Allocations permitted by the TMDL for the first time, thus achieving this major goal. As a result we have seen a significant reduction of the hypoxic area in Long Island Sound.
Protecting and Restoring Critical Habitat: Long Beach West, CT
Healthy tidal wetlands, sea grass beds, beaches, and bluffs are critical for the survival of fish, shellfish, birds, and other wildlife found in the Sound's watershed. To date, 1,045 acres of ecologically important habitat have been restored and 158 miles of fish passage have been created. This includes 35 acres of beach and dune habitat restored in Long Beach West, CT. The site is now open for passive recreation for the first time in over a decade. It is recognized by the National Audubon Society as an Important Bird Area, valuable both as a resting site and migratory stopover point for rare bird species such as least tern, black duck, clapper rail, and piping plover. It also supports five species of Connecticut-listed rare plants.
More Needs to be Done!
Upgrading Septic Systems
Outdated septic and cesspool systems are adding to excessive nitrogen pollution to the Long Island Sound, which causes depleted fisheries, harmful algal blooms, and beach closures throughout New York and Connecticut. In Suffolk County there are 360,000 homes on septic systems and cesspools, with another approximately 100,000 businesses and 30,000 homes in Nassau County. In Nassau, these septic systems are largely concentrated in north shore communities and are degrading water quality in Long Island Sound embayments.
In Glen Cove, Crescent Beach has experienced beach closures since 2011 due to high bacteria levels and excessive nitrogen from low lying septic systems in the area. The City of Glen Cove is currently looking into the possibility of sewering the area, while Suffolk County is currently testing advanced on-site septic systems with nitrogen removal technology to replace the outdated septics and cesspools. Either sewering or replacing septics in communities around the Long Island Sound is a necessary step, but will require significant aid to municipalities and homeowners.
Preserving Plum Island
Plum Island is an 840-acre island located 10 miles from Connecticut in the heart of LIS. Approximately 90% of the island is undeveloped, allowing pristine wetland and grassland areas to flourish and giving the island tremendous ecological value. It is inhabited by a wide variety of plant species, including rare orchids, oaks, and carnivorous plants. Plum Island is also considered to be a vital breeding ground for over 80 species of birds, including piping plovers, roseate terns, and other endangered species.
Plum Island is the current home of USDA's animal disease research facility, requiring that the island be completely isolated from public access. The facility is being relocated, and the federal government is seeking to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder. This sale would jeopardize critical wildlife habitat, increase pollution going into LIS, and prevent future public use. Fortunately, Congress is now considering legislation that would reverse a 2008 law requiring the island to be sold at public auction.
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