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Frequently Asked Questions on Long Island Sound Watershed Permitting

Technical Fact Sheet, July 2018

  1. What is EPA's Long Island Sound Nitrogen Reduction Strategy?
  2. What outreach has EPA done on the Nitrogen Strategy?
  3. What outreach does EPA intend to provide in the future?
  4. What does EPA's nitrogen strategy say about future nitrogen reduction levels?
  5. When will the allocations be available?
  6. What form will the allocations take and how will they be implemented?
  7. Could a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) that already has nitrogen limits under their existing permits be subject to more stringent nitrogen limits? If so, when would permits be modified to include more stringent limits?
  8. What are the order and timing of National Pollutant
  9. Will EPA lead a point source nitrogen trading program within the Long Island Sound watershed?

1) What is EPA's Long Island Sound Nitrogen Reduction Strategy?

EPA is committed to the restoration and protection of Long Island Sound by continuing progress on nitrogen reduction to meet water quality standards for dissolved oxygen and addressing other eutrophication-related impacts.

In December 2015 EPA signed a letter, sent to each of the five states in the Long Island Sound watershed, detailing a comprehensive EPA nitrogen reduction strategy. The Strategy builds on earlier progress on reducing nitrogen pollution and works in coordination with the States' continued implementation of the Total Maximum Daily Load to Achieve Water Quality Standards for Dissolved Oxygen in Long Island Sound (2000 TMDL). Implementation of the 2000 TMDL has resulted in a significant reduction of nitrogen pollution, and has improved dissolved oxygen (DO) conditions in the open waters of the Sound. The Strategy, however, recognizes that more work must be done to reduce nitrogen levels, further improve DO conditions, and attain other related water quality standards in Long Island Sound. The letter and attachments detail EPA's proposed actions to complement the State's efforts, with basic concepts organized around three watershed groupings.

EPA brought a contractor on board to assist in the application and refinement of technical analyses in support of the Nitrogen Reduction Strategy for sub basins in the watershed, including 23 embayments (selected by EPA out of 110 coastal embayments to LIS), three large riverine systems (the Connecticut, Thames, and Housatonic rivers), and Western LIS (comprised of the Eastern Narrows and Western Narrows. Regular updates on the strategy are posted at http://longislandsoundstudy.net/issues-actions/water-quality/nitrogen-strategy/

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2) What outreach has EPA done on the Nitrogen Strategy?

List of some highlighted meetings and presentations:

  • Letter to each of the states in the Long Island Sound watershed with attached nitrogen strategy on December 23, 2015
  • Public webinars on Feb 26, 2016, Dec 19, 2016, Nov 8, 2017
  • Formation in 2017 of a Technical Stakeholder Review Group), which includes all watershed states, NYC, Suffolk County, New England Water Pollution Control Commission and other groups collecting water quality data.
  • Ongoing EPA-State meetings both in-person and conference calls on N strategy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
  • Ongoing technical coordination meetings with Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP), Suffolk Co, and CT Second Generation Nitrogen Strategy-Niantic River Project Team.
  • Public meetings in 2016 held at the Stamford Government Center, CT on April 13, the Huntington, NY Town Hall on April 15, and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in Springfield, MA on May 12
  • Public presentations in 2016 at the May 3 Latitude 41 Conference and the September 21 Connecticut Environmental Health Association Conference
  • Meetings and calls at the request of the CT River Advisory Group (several WWTPs in MA and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission), National Association of Clean Water Agencies, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and others.
  • Regular updates at quarterly Long Island Sound Study Management Committee meetings and relevant work group meetings.
  • Post relevant materials and contract deliverables to www.longislandsoundstudy.net, including a link to subscribe for updates and to submit technical comments on deliverables.

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3) What outreach does EPA intend to provide in the future?

EPA will continue to engage states, municipalities, and watershed/environmental groups in the development and implementation of the strategy. EPA will share the technical portions of the nitrogen strategy as they develop. EPA will continue to lead a small Technical Stakeholder Group that will provide its individual state or organization viewpoint to identify information EPA or its contractor may have missed. The Group will not collectively advise EPA or provide consensus recommendations.

EPA will continue to provide project updates for municipal officials, members of the public, environmental groups, and other interested parties to review the schedule and view major reports on the Long Island Sound Study (LISS) website at www.LongIslandSoundStudy.net. EPA encourages communities to work through their states or various municipal coalitions to review the posted materials and provide technical feedback through the LISS website. EPA will invite technical comment at various points in the process, and plans to conduct an informal public review period, however but EPA does not anticipate a formal comment period or written response to comments. EPA also plans to host informational webinars to outline the conceptual flow of the project, to summarize progress to date and to provide an anticipated timeline for deliverables. Transparency of process, the timely release of deliverables and updates on progress under the Nitrogen Strategy are critical to both EPA and the LISS.

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4) What does EPA's nitrogen strategy say about future nitrogen reduction levels?

The Strategy seeks to complement state efforts in implementing the TMDL and coordinate with new state and local initiatives in determining where and how much additional nitrogen reduction may be necessary to achieve compliance with water quality standards in both the embayments and in the open waters of Long Island Sound.

EPA has posted technical documents in support of the strategy to the LISS website. These include:

  1. Project Map: Study Area map of all watersheds evaluated in this memo
  2. Literature Review Memo: Summary of available information concerning potential assessment endpoints and work conducted.
  3. Subtask A: Data summary of individual nitrogen loads for 23 embayments, the Eastern Narrows, the Western Narrows, and Western LIS (Eastern Narrows and Western Narrows combined).
  4. Subtask B: Data summary of regulated point source discharges to LIS.
  5. Subtask C: Data summary of tributary loadings to LIS, specifically the Connecticut, Housatonic, and Thames rivers.
  6. Subtask D: Summary of existing water quality data collected and analyzed for 23 embayments; the Eastern Narrows; the Western Narrows; the Connecticut, Housatonic, and Thames rivers; and other water quality monitoring stations used for the analysis (includes additional embayments and open water).
  7. Subtask E: Summary of the hydrodynamic analysis conducted to relate tributary loads to areas of influence and relative contributions to embayments.
  8. Quality Assurance Project Plan for technical approach (methodology)
  9. Performance Work Statement

EPA is now developing Total Nitrogen endpoints (Subtask F & G memo) for each waterbody grouping that are protective of designated uses. The endpoints are intended as a source of relevant information to be used by federal and state water quality managers and stakeholders in developing nitrogen reduction strategies, including nitrogen reduction targets and allocations. There are many sub-watersheds so this work will be phased in over time, beginning with 23 embayments (selected by EPA out of 110 coastal embayments to LIS), three large riverine systems (the Connecticut, Thames, and Housatonic rivers), and Western LIS (comprised of the Eastern Narrows and Western Narrows).

EPA plans to submit the technical products, particularly the Subtask F & G memo identifying total nitrogen endpoints, for external, expert technical review. EPA may revise the technical products based on that review and additional public comments. EPA will continue coordination and engagement with the States and stakeholders on using available information to further develop nitrogen reduction strategies, including nitrogen reduction targets and allocations.

Ultimately, the work synthesizes and analyzes water quality data to assess nitrogen-related water quality conditions in Long Island Sound and its embayments, based on the best scientific information reasonably available. The products, however, are not a proposed Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), nor proposed water quality criteria, nor recommended criteria. The study is not a regulation, is not guidance, and cannot impose legally binding requirements on EPA, States, Tribes, or the regulated community. The technical study might not apply to a particular situation or circumstance, but is intended as a source of relevant information to be used by water quality managers, at their discretion, in developing nitrogen reduction strategies.

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5) When will the allocations be available?

The first phase of EPA's contractor's work is anticipated to be completed by summer 2018, which will include Total Nitrogen endpoints (Subtask F & G memo) that are protective of designated uses in embayments, the large riverine systems (the Connecticut, Thames, and Housatonic Rivers), and Western LIS. EPA plans to submit the technical products, particularly the Subtask F & G memo identifying total nitrogen endpoints, for external, expert technical review. EPA may revise the technical products based on that review and additional public comments. EPA will continue coordination and engagement with the States and stakeholders on using available information to further develop nitrogen reduction strategies, including nitrogen reduction targets and allocations.

Although Water Quality Based Effluent Limits (WQBELs) for National Pollutant Elimination Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits will not be products of the work, facilities should start planning now for future water quality based nitrogen limits, especially if they are planning upgrades to existing treatment plants.

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6) What form will the allocations take and how will they be implemented?

Under the first phase of this study Tetra Tech developed nitrogen endpoints for a number of sub-watersheds. It is premature to judge whether total nitrogen endpoints (Subtask F & G memo) that are protective of designated uses will require nitrogen reductions. Where nitrogen reductions are determined to be necessary to protect designated uses of sub-watersheds, EPA supports use of a single total nitrogen load allocation for each state. NPDES permits issued in each individual state will have to demonstrate consistency with achieving the load allocation for that state to meet water quality standards in a particular sub-watershed. To the extent there is interest in offsetting point source nitrogen reductions with nonpoint source nitrogen reductions, the feasibility of achieving the nonpoint source reductions will have to be demonstrated and a tracking and accounting system established that addresses all changes to watershed nitrogen loadings. States and/or municipalities that intend to offset point source nitrogen reductions with nonpoint source nitrogen reductions are strongly encouraged to begin developing these plans now.

This study is not a TMDL and will not provide a load or waste load allocation, nor will it suggest specific methods for reducing nitrogen loads. Overall, this study is meant to enhance, or in some cases begin, the nitrogen reduction conversation. EPA will coordinate with States, regional and local groups in terms of implementation efforts to reach nitrogen targets. EPA has been coordinating with other nitrogen reduction efforts, such as LINAP (Long Island Sound Nitrogen Action Plan) and the Niantic River Estuary Study, to share information on target reductions and see where we can harmonize our efforts.

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7) Could a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) that already has nitrogen limits under their existing permits be subject to more stringent nitrogen limits? If so, when would permits be modified to include more stringent limits?

The nitrogen endpoints developed in the first phase of this study are scientific reports to assist EPA and states in developing strategies to attain water quality standards. EPA will work with States, municipalities and regional bodies to develop and implement strategies to attain nitrogen reduction targets. Subsequent regulatory actions such as NPDES permit actions, if any, based on the modeling efforts or data from this study would require a formal comment and public notice period.

In setting allocations and developing water quality based effluent limits, a Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) may have to further control nitrogen depending on the final allocations. EPA and states will consider factors such as the magnitude of the necessary nitrogen reduction, the facility size and current nitrogen discharge concentration, and the facility's proximity to the sub-embayment.

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8) What are the order and timing of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit renewals and allocations in the watershed?

EPA or the delegated state that issues NPDES permits determine the amount of various pollutants that can be discharged from a given and sets effluent limitations in the permit to ensure that water quality is not compromised. EPA has two non-delegated states in the Long Island Sound Watershed where EPA has the lead in drafting permits: Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The remaining states of New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island, are each authorized to issue NPDES permits, but under EPA oversight.

As technical products under the Nitrogen Strategy are completed, EPA will review permits in a particular sub-watershed to develop a permit strategy for EPA-issued permits, and will work with States, municipalities and regional bodies to develop and implement strategies to attain nitrogen reduction targets. Subsequent regulatory actions such as NPDES permit actions, if any, based on the modeling efforts or data from this study would require a formal comment and public notice period. EPA and state permitting programs will use a combination of permit renewals and/or revisions to existing NPDES permits as appropriate to incorporate revised nitrogen limits where necessary.

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9) Will EPA lead a point source nitrogen trading program within the Long Island Sound watershed?

EPA will not lead a nitrogen trading program but encourages the states, municipalities, interstate or other local governmental organizations to investigate the feasibility of a trading program. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has developed a formal Nitrogen Credit Exchange Program and has implemented trading for years. This program may be helpful to others. States are encouraged to consult with EPA throughout the development of a trading program to facilitate alignment with the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA will use its permit issuance and state oversight authorities to ensure that trades and trading programs are fully consistent with the CWA and its implementing programs, including achieving water quality standards as soon as possible. More information can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/npdes/water-quality-trading

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