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Long Island Sound Plan Calls for Dramatic Reductions in Nitrogen Pollution Over 15 Years

Release Date: 02/05/1998
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(#98010) New York, NY -- The amount of nitrogen reaching the waters of Long Island Sound will be reduced by nearly 60 percent over the next 15 years, according to a plan adopted today by the high-level officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation serving on the Long Island Sound Study Policy Committee. Nitrogen is directly linked to low dissolved oxygen, a condition that scientists call hypoxia, one of the Sound's most serious problems. New York City and other local governments support the adoption of the plan.

The Policy Committee, which met in New York City today, also adopted a habitat restoration plan that sets goals to restore over the next 10 years at least 2000 acres of coastal habitat and 100 miles of river used by migratory fish. The two plans adopted today fulfill commitments contained in a larger Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the Sound that was adopted in 1994.

The nitrogen reduction plan adopted today calls for a 58.5 percent reduction in nitrogen, to be achieved largely through upgrades of sewage treatment plants at an estimated cost of $650 million. Sewage treatment plants contribute nearly 2/3 of the nitrogen that reaches the Long Island Sound. In addition to controlling nitrogen loads from sewage treatment plants, the plan calls for controls on industrial and nonpoint source discharges. The plan includes five and ten-year targets to track and ensure the success of the program.

The habitat restoration plan, which compliments efforts to reduce nitrogen loads and improve dissolved oxygen levels in the Sound, sets priorities for restoring more than 450 sites on which information has been compiled in a Habitat Restoration Geographic Information System. More than 2/3 of the sites are located in tidal and inland wetland areas. Other important habitat areas include beaches and dunes, coastal and island forests, bays and harbors, cliffs and bluffs, and coastal grasslands. Loss of habitat in Long Island Sound and its watershed has negatively impacted the Sound's living resources.

"Today's plans are an example of what we can accomplish when stakeholders work together," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Region 2 Administrator. "Long Island Sound is tremendously valuable to all who live, work, and vacation along its shores. Many depend on the Sound for their livelihoods and others enjoy it for its tranquil beauty. Today's plans will take us a long way toward healing the Sound and ensuring its health for future generations."

"The success of our efforts in reclaiming the Sound will be written in science text books," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "With sound science, a strong will, and cooperation among the many interested parties, we will secure the Sound for the long term recreational opportunities it offers and expand its economic promise for those who rely on its rich natural resources for a livelihood."

"Governor Pataki understands the unique role Long Island plays in the social, environmental, and economic quality of life for millions of Americans," said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner John P. Cahill. "By dedicating $200 million in state aid to support the restoration of the Sound, Governor Pataki has committed New York State to working in partnership with its local governments to reverse decades of environmental neglect. Governor Pataki has committed more than $1 billion to the restoration and protection of New York's water, an investment that will pay dividends forever."

"Connecticut is committed to improving Long Island Sound. We have acted aggressively and lived up to the challenge to cleanup the Sound," said Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Arthur J. Rocque, Jr. "The CT DEP has followed through with both the money and innovation and technical assistance throughout the Connecticut watershed on Long Island Sound. Connecticut is on track toward the goal of meeting future nitrogen and toxic pollutant reduction targets while maintaining efforts toward habitat restoration and other issues outlined by the Study."

Hypoxia was identified as the most significant problem in the Sound in a 1994 management plan that was developed by EPA, New York and Connecticut. The management plan called for a phased approach to reducing nitrogen in the Sound. Phase one, implemented during the development of the 1994 management plan, froze the levels of nitrogen reaching the Sound at 1990 levels to prevent the problem from worsening. Phase two, begun in 1994, called for low-cost improvements at 21 sewage treatment plants that have now resulted in a 5,000 pounds per day reduction in nitrogen loadings. The Phase three plan adopted today calls for a more comprehensive upgrade program to achieve additional reductions of 125,000 pounds per day.

Hypoxia in the Sound is the result of excessive amounts of nitrogen and organic carbon combining with warm weather conditions that reduce mixing and circulation of the water. The most significant sources of nitrogen and carbon include sewage treatment plants and storm water runoff from roadways, lawns, golf courses and agriculture. The nitrogen acts as a fertilizer to fuel the growth of algae. The algae become overabundant, and when they die, the process of decomposition depletes the oxygen in the bottom waters. Hot weather exacerbates the condition by preventing vertical mixing of high oxygen surface waters with the oxygen-depleted bottom waters. Natural restrictions to circulation in the Western Sound compound the problem. Oxygen levels can become inadequate to support organisms in certain areas of the Sound and available habitat in the Sound can be significantly reduced.

The nitrogen reduction plan is expected to reduce the area of the Sound that is unhealthy for fish and shellfish by 75 percent and reduce the duration of the unhealthful episodes by 85 percent. In the western Narrows, the portion of the Sound hardest hit by oxygen deficits, mortality rates for sensitive marine organisms are expected to be reduced by 90 percent.

The habitat restoration plan was developed by EPA, NYSDEC and CT DEP with assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fishery Service, the New York Department of State, New York City's Department of Environmental Protection and Parks and Recreation, New York Sea Grant, the Long Island Sound Study Citizens Advisory Committee and Save the Sound, Inc. The restoration effort will target existing federal, state, and private grant programs for funding.

For more information contact:
Mary Mears, Press Office
EPA Region 2
290 Broadway
NY, NY 10007-1866
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