Agencies Partner to Limit Nitrogen Pollution in Sound

By ecoRI News staff

STAMFORD, Conn. — Long Island Sound and its bays and estuaries are critical to quality of life throughout the region. Although much progress has been made reducing the amount of nitrogen discharged from sewage treatment plants, pollution exceeds levels that allow marine habitats to survive.

This excess nitrogen fuels algae growth, which depletes oxygen in the sound’s waters, threatening its vitality and the region’s coastal way of life, according to The Nature Conservancy.

A recently released Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nitrogen reduction strategy could expand efforts and play a pivotal role in securing a healthier Long Island Sound. A public meeting held April 13 in Stamford underscored the strategy’s significance and the challenges posed to the sound, said Holly Drinkuth, director of outreach and watershed projects for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut.

She said the discussion set the stage for critical action to address nitrogen pollution threats in the Long Island Sound watershed.

In 1985, in an attempt to restore the health of Long Island Sound, a cooperative effort focusing on the overall ecosystem was created. The EPA and the states of Connecticut and New York founded the Long Island Sound Study, which addresses the issue of nitrogen pollution.

Recent Nature Conservancy research indicates that non-point sources of nitrogen pollution, from outdated septic systems to aging wastewater infrastructure to excess fertilizer use, are the primary causes of impaired water quality and degraded habitats in many of the sound’s bays and harbors.

“To restore conditions that habitats and marine life in Long Island Sound need to thrive, we must direct attention toward reducing nitrogen from all sources, including outdated septic systems, that leak nitrogen into our groundwater and streams and degrade our harbors and bays,” Drinkuth said.

The EPA strategy focuses, in part, on restoring oxygen levels, eelgrass and salt marshes, as well as reducing toxic and nuisance algae in the most crippled bays and harbors by developing local, watershed-based nitrogen reduction plans.

The strategy specifically calls attention to the conservancy’s current nitrogen-reduction initiatives in the Saugatuck River watershed.

A second public meeting is scheduled for April 15 from 2-3:30 p.m. at Huntington Town Hall in Huntington, N.Y.