TESTIMONY OF MARK TEDESCO
LONG ISLAND SOUND OFFICE
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
LONG ISLAND SOUND CAUCUS
Good morning, I am Mark Tedesco, Technical Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Long Island Sound Office. I am pleased to be here today and I thank the Caucus for the opportunity to discuss our efforts to protect and restore Long Island Sound.
The questions before this panel are: where have we been, and where are we now? To answer them, I would like to first provide some background.
The Long Island Sound Study began in 1985 when Congress appropriated funds for EPA to assess and improve the environmental quality and health of the Sound. With the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act (CWA), Long Island Sound became part of the National Estuary Program (NEP).
In creating the National Estuary Program, Congress recognized that, in spite of some very real successes since passage of the CWA, further improvements in coastal water quality would require new strategies, such as: reducing pollution from smaller, diffuse sources; changing individual behavior; managing unconventional pollutants, like the nutrient nitrogen; and, preserving and restoring natural habitats. These activities would need to be targeted on a regional or local scale. For example, the problems facing Long Island Sound may not be the same as those facing Puget Sound and other estuaries around the country, and the solutions to these problems need to vary.
The charge to the Long Island Sound Study was, therefore, to assess the health of Long Island Sound from a broad ecosystem perspective, and to bring together the major stakeholders to collaboratively develop a plan for its protection and restoration. A Management Conference was convened on March 28, 1988 to develop a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that would include provisions for coordinated implementation by the States of New York and Connecticut, federal and local agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. As a result of the cooperative effort that has characterized the Long Island Sound Study, we have accomplished much. We have a better understanding of the Sound than ever before; for example, we know more of:
- the sources and amounts of pollutants discharged to the Sound;
- how its waters move, transporting those pollutants;
- the effect of pollution on habitat quality and on the Sound's living resources; and
- the technical feasibility and costs of controlling pollution to restore the Sound.
There is a greater awareness of the Sound between government and the public, so necessary for building the will to protect its quality. For example: There is an unprecedented level of bi-State cooperation and coordination among federal, State, and local government; and, Nonprofit groups interested in the protection of Long Island Sound have proliferated and new partnerships between labor and environmental interests have been established.
But our goal has always been to develop and implement actions to protect and restore Long Island Sound comprehensively, across State jurisdictional boundaries in a cost-effective manner. In 1994, after extensive public input and comment, a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound was completed and approved. The plan identified six key issues: hypoxia, toxics, pathogens, floatable debris, impacts on living marine resources, and land use and development. In September of that year, at a ceremony celebrating the plan's approval, a Long Island Sound Agreement pledging support for its implementation was signed by the Governors of New York and Connecticut, and the EPA Administrator. That agreement was reaffirmed by the Governors of New York and Connecticut, and by EPA in October 1996.
Important elements of the plan are being implemented by the States of New York and Connecticut. Rather than summarizing the status of all the commitments made in the management plan, I am submitting for the record a copy of the Fact Sheet, Putting the Plan in Motion, that highlights the significant progress made in implementation. A comprehensive report that tracks the status of implementation as of January 1997 is also in preparation and will be available this Summer.
However, there are some areas I would like to emphasize here.
As you know, the condition of hypoxia, or low dissolved oxygen, has been our highest priority. Low oxygen levels during late summer diminish the health and habitat value of Long Island Sound. Hypoxia is caused by excessive discharges of nitrogen. Nitrogen fuels the excessive growth of planktonic algae, ultimately resulting in the depletion of oxygen in the Sound's bottom waters. Also, it reduces the amount of light available for submerged aquatic vegetation, resulting in a loss of this valuable nursery habitat.
More than 90,000 tons of nitrogen are estimated to be delivered to the Sound each year. Of this, more than half is the result of human activities, or enriched nitrogen. The sources of nitrogen from the New York and Connecticut portions of the Long Island Sound watershed are estimated to be 77.5% from point sources, 4.1% from nonpoint sources, 13.6% from atmospheric deposition, and, 4.8% from tributaries north of Connecticut.
To understand the relationship between these nitrogen loads to the Sound and levels of dissolved oxygen in the Sound, the Long Island Sound Study has supported monitoring of the Sound each year since 1986 and the development of complex computer models of both water quality and circulation.
Information from the monitoring programs and the computer models has supported a phased approach to reducing nitrogen loadings to the Sound. Phase I, announced in December 1990, called for a freeze on point and nonpoint nitrogen loadings to the Sound in critical areas at 1990 levels. Phase II, approved in 1994, committed to low-cost actions to begin to reduce the load of nitrogen below the 1990 freeze baseline.
Success in reducing nitrogen loads has been achieved by retrofitting existing sewage treatment plants to apply a process called biological nutrient removal (or BNR). Because of the success of BNR, the estimated cost for reducing nitrogen from sewage treatment plants has decreased. The estimated cost for upgrading all the sewage treatment plants in the New York and Connecticut portions of the Long Island Sound watershed to achieve the limit of current technology for nitrogen removal has declined from a high of $8 billion to around $2.5 billion.
Phases I and II are significant and important steps, reversing a 200 plus year trend of increasing nitrogen loads. It was recognized, however, that additional reductions, or a Phase III, would be necessary to restore the health of Long Island Sound.
Phases I and II were based on LIS 2.0, a two-dimensional water quality model. LIS 3.0, a three-dimensional water quality model that better defines the area and duration of low DO conditions, was approved in 1994 by an independent technical review panel, and has been used to develop the proposal for Phase III. Using LIS 3.0, we have evaluated the different options for improving water quality. We identified 11 watershed management zones. Within each zone, the options and costs for reducing nitrogen loads from all point and nonpoint sources were identified. The LIS 3.0 model was then used to test the effect on oxygen conditions in the Sound of the different options for reducing nitrogen in each zone. This allowed us to identify the nitrogen load reduction level that had the greatest environmental improvement relative to cost. The results are significant. Approximately 80 percent of the potential improvements in oxygen levels can be obtained for about 25 percent of the total potential expenditures.
Using this information, the States of New York and Connecticut, and the EPA, released a proposal for Phase III of the hypoxia management effort this past February. Phase III sets a nitrogen reduction target of 58.5 percent for eleven geographic management zones. The States will develop zone-by-zone strategies on how to meet the reduction target through a mix of point and nonpoint source control actions. A 15 year, phased, enforceable schedule, commencing after completion of zone by zone plans, will be established to assure steady progress in achieving the nitrogen reduction targets.
The incremental capital cost of achieving the Phase III point source controls is estimated at $300 million for New York State and $350 million for Connecticut. Nonpoint source controls will be implemented as part of broader watershed and habitat protection efforts. The costs of achieving nonpoint nitrogen reductions have not been estimated but are expected to be significant. While these cost estimates may be revised as more detailed facility planning and design is performed, they show clearly that the potential cost of achieving our goals can be much less than originally estimated. The benefits of Phase III on the health of the Sound will be substantial. Achieving the nitrogen reduction targets is expected to reduce the maximum area of the Sound unhealthy for fish and shellfish by 75 percent and the duration of unhealthy conditions by 85 percent. In the area with the worst conditions, the biological impacts are estimated to be reduced by more than 90 percent. In many areas of the Sound, biological impacts from hypoxia will be effectively eliminated. These environmental improvements, while substantial, will not result in water quality standards being met in all areas at all times. To meet water quality standards, the Long Island Sound Study will evaluate additional nitrogen reduction options beyond Phase III in areas such as atmospheric deposition, tributary loading north of Connecticut, and actions that improve water quality in New York Harbor.
An extensive public outreach program on the Phase III proposal will be conducted this summer and early fall to educate the public about the problem of hypoxia, the proposed strategy to address it, and to solicit public input on the proposed nitrogen reduction target and related implementation actions. We welcome this continued dialogue with citizens, municipalities, and all affected stakeholders on the proposal.
There are two other examples of implementation that I would like to comment on: habitat restoration and watershed protection. Both complement the effort to improve the Sound's water quality through nitrogen reduction. The Long Island Sound Study Habitat Restoration Initiative (the Initiative), a recommendation of the CCMP and one strongly supported by the public in meetings held on the plan, has set three goals:
- restore the ecological functions of degraded and lost habitats;
- restore 2000 acres and 100 river miles of natural habitats over the next ten years; and,
- use partnerships to accomplish the restoration objectives and to leverage limited State, local, and federal funds.
Funded by the EPA Long Island Sound Office, led by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and involving other federal, State, local, and nonprofit organizations, the Initiative has already: selected habitat types in need of restoration;
identified more than 450 potential sites for restoration;
developed criteria to prioritize restoration; and
identified sources of funding for restoration projects.
The last of nine public meetings are being held this week to present and solicit comments on the Initiative. The seven meetings previously held have shown strong public support for the Initiative. Highly ranked sites will be given top priority with respect to pursuing funding and assigning staff time for developing site plans. All restoration projects will be voluntary and with stakeholder and landowner support.
Also, we are working to expand watershed protection efforts to address nonpoint sources of pollution and habitat preservation and protection. Many of the remaining water quality problems in the Sound's watershed result from polluted runoff originating from diverse sources. To address these nonpoint source pollution problems, strong local partnerships are necessary.
The EPA Long Island Sound Office has joined with the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to form partnerships with the local municipalities in the Norwalk River watershed. Teams of scientists and volunteers have surveyed each mile of Norwalk watershed's rivers and streams, collecting data on water quality, updating flood hazard information, and analyzing existing regulatory programs and resource protection plans. This information is being used to develop a watershed plan to maintain and restore water quality, protect flood prone areas, and restore habitat. Throughout the project, watershed residents, town officials, and State and federal agencies will explore how to better coordinate efforts. These efforts will not only improve the quality of the Norwalk River for local residents, but contribute to improving the health of Long Island Sound.
In Westchester County, watershed advisory teams have been formed to develop local management plans for controlling nonpoint source pollution to Long Island Sound. Funds allocated for Long Island Sound are being used to implement actions from one of the teams. New York State and EPA are also working to initiate watershed efforts on Long Island.
In closing, I would like to emphasize that restoring Long Island Sound will require a sustained and committed effort. Established in March of 1992, the Long Island Sound Office has worked to coordinate completion of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan and now is working with our State and local partners to implement the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. The EPA Long Island Sound Office will continue efforts to:
- educate, inform, and involve the public;
- build partnerships among different levels and government and the private sector;
- coordinate implementation in New York and Connecticut;
- maintain a dynamic ongoing process that refines long-term strategies, and
- monitor and track progress so that we can assess what works and what doesn't, and redirect action where necessary.
Thank you for the opportunity to tell you about the Long Island Sound Study. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have at this time.
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