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Source: Environment and Energy Daily

WATER: T&I panel to examine Long Island Sound restoration efforts


Posted: October 6, 2009
Originally Published: October 5, 2009

A House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee tomorrow will examine how to improve a program to restore Long Island Sound, which continues to face water quality issues after years of state and federal cleanup efforts.

The hearing is aimed at exploring the challenges that face the estuary as lawmakers prepare to reauthorize the Long Island Sound Restoration Act, which Congress first passed in 2000, a committee spokesman said.

The measure authorized $40 million a year to help distressed local communities along the water body to repair their sewage treatment plants to decrease nitrogen levels in the water.

Excess nitrogen fuels algae blooms that deplete the water of oxygen, creating hypoxic "dead zones" that smother marine life -- one of the most prominent threats to the estuary.

Conservation advocates say the biggest problem facing the Long Island Sound is a lack of funding for the cleanup measures, as Congress has appropriated only a fraction of the authorized $40 million for the program each year.

"The act itself is very good," said Sandy Breslin, director of governmental affairs for Audubon Connecticut. "It gives a lot of authority for promoting clean water and a host of other activities. What we really need is the funding to be able to implement that."

Leah Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for State of the Sound, a division of the nonprofit Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said Connecticut alone requires about $5 billion to upgrade its sewage plants and New York City needs additional billions of dollars.

All four senators from New York and Connecticut last year pushed for full funding of the restoration act.

"In order to improve the health of Long Island Sound, the federal government must fulfill its end of the partnership that works to reduce nitrogen loading and helps improve sewage treatment plants," Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to Senate appropriators.

Schmalz, who is scheduled to testify at the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee hearing, said regulations also must be updated to account for emerging threats to the Long Island Sound like sea level rise and warming water temperatures.

"There are issues that have arisen over the past 15 years that no one ever contemplated back then," Schmalz said.

Rising water levels could eat away at the infrastructure of sewage treatment plants in the area -- many of which are located on the coastline -- and lead to spills or overflows, Schmalz said.

She noted that warmer waters already are changing the sound's ecosystem and may influence the types of fisheries the estuary can support.

"There's a lot of research that needs to be done so that we can manage our fisheries in an appropriate manner based on what's actually happening," Schmalz said.

Schedule: The hearing is tomorrow at 11 a.m. in 2167 Rayburn.

Witnesses: Mark Tedesco, Long Island Sound office, U.S. EPA; Amey Marella, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection; Peter Scully, regional director of the Long Island Sound regional office of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Jeanette Brown, executive director of Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority; Leah Schmalz; director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound at Connecticut Fund for the Environment; Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Nicholas Crismale, president of the Connecticut Lobstermen's Association.