Long Island Sound Protection
Filed Under: Environmental Issues | Long Island | Nassau | Water | Water
Long Island Sound is an estuary, a place where salt water from the ocean mixes with fresh water from rivers and the land. The Sound is approximately 110 miles long and about 21 miles across at its widest point. Long Island Sound is unique in that it has two connections to the sea: the East River and New York Harbor to the west and an area known as the “Race” to the east. The Sound combines this multiple inflow/outflow system with a highly irregular shoreline and complex bottom topography. All these factors combine to produce a unique pattern of tides and currents.
Since the entire northern edge of Nassau County borders Long Island Sound, the Sound’s environmental integrity is extremely important to the health and well-being of the county. It is estimated that $5.5 billion is generated annually in the regional economy from boating, commercial and sport fishing, swimming and beach-going. The Sound is already under severe stress: 8 million people live in the area of the Long Island Sound watershed, another 8 million people live and vacation on or near the Sound, and much of the projected growth and land use change in the NY metropolitan region is expected to occur in Long Island and Connecticut.
In 1985, the federal government and the state governments of New York and Connecticut created the Long Island Sound Study to identify and rectify environmental problems related to the Long Island Sound. In 1990, Congress passed the Long Island Sound Improvement Act, giving the EPA authority to implement the LISS over a minimum of five years. In 1994, the LISS Management Conference, made up of representatives from all levels of government, universities, citizen and environmental groups, and industry, issued and began to implement the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) to protect Long Island Sound.
The CCMP focused on seven issues: low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia), toxic contamination, pathogen contamination, floatable debris, living resources and habitat management, land use and development, and public involvement and education. Some specific priorities identified by the CCMP include reducing nitrogen, a major cause of hypoxia, by 58.5% by 2014 and completing habitat restoration by restoring 2000 acres and opening 100 river miles to fish passage by 2008.
In December of 2002, the Long Island Sound Study Policy Committee signed a new Long Island Sound Agreement. In addition to reaffirming both New York and Connecticut’s commitment to the LISS, it also sets the goal of having an ecologically healthy Sound by 2014. This ambitious agreement sets incremental goals to protect living creatures and their habitats, address contamination problems, continue education of the public, and preserve open space.
The following are some of the major problems that the LISS is addressing.
Sewage Plant Discharges into the Sound
A significant source of pathogen and toxic contamination in Long Island Sound is the enormous amount of treated effluent released each day by sewage treatment plants. These plants release many harmful substances into the Sound. Nitrogen from runoff associated with over-fertilized lawns plunges dissolved oxygen to dangerously low levels, thus increasing hypoxia. Pathogens from combined sewer overflows cause beach closures because of high levels of fecal coliform and poisoned shellfish beds. Toxic chemicals from violated industrial discharge permits further pollute the Sound. Limited treatment capacity contaminates the sediments at the bottom of the Sound and accumulating throughout the food chain.
The Long Island Sound Study has succeeded in limiting sewage plant discharges into the sound. From 1990 to 2001, nitrogen discharges into the Sound had decreased by 19 percent, and the problem of hypoxia has also decreased significantly from the late 1980s. The states of Connecticut and New York have also collectively invested millions of dollars to institute aspects of the LISS, and much of this money has gone to upgrading sewage treatment plants. While this is an excellent beginning, the LISS and the related state and federal agencies must continue to be vigilant about all sorts of pollution to the Sound, including discharge from sewage treatment plants.
Involved Government Agencies
NYS Division of Water runs the permitting process for wastewater discharge pipes and storm water sewers and certifies wastewater treatment operators; Nassau Departments of Health and Public Works regulates construction, spill prevention, and sewage treatment plant approvals and inspections.
Non-point Source Pollution
Non-point source pollution is carried by stormwater runoff, melting snow and groundwater in high water tables. It is also created in a process called atmospheric deposition, in which air pollutants are picked up by rain and snow and thus reaching the ground and stormwater runoff. Non-point sources also include pollutants from automobile oil, pesticides, and excessive nitrogen from fertilizers in gardens, excessive manure applications on farms and waste from domesticated animals. Non-point source pollution is so named because it does not originate with one obvious source, such as a sewage plant. Rather, it is created by the general population. This makes it much more difficult to control and regulate than point sources, and thus it poses a constant threat to the Sound. It has been estimated that runoff contributes half of the pathogens to the Sound that cause beach and shellfish bed closures or restrictions.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation regulates and limits some of this non-point source pollution through State stormwater performance standards, as outlined in the Phase II State Pollution Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) general permit program. The NYS DEC also publishes the New York State Stormwater Management Design Manual to assist and educate those involved in the permitting process.
Nassau created a Sewer and Storm Water Authority in 2003. By consolidating stormwater management within the county, the Authority should facilitate instituting environmental regulations.
While such large-scale efforts are important, individual conservation efforts also decrease the amount of non-point source pollution significantly. To help protect Long Island Sound, follow the environmentally friendly suggestions below:
Involved Government Agencies: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the NYS Division of Marine Resources (a part of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)), the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and local governments.
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