Report: Connecticut’s Open-Space Goals Off Target

By ecoRI News staff

The Council on Environmental Quality recently released its Environmental Quality in Connecticut 2016, the state’s annual report that highlights milestones, provides measures and makes recommendations on 30 key indicators of environmental quality to ensure Connecticut meets its environmental-quality goals.

Here are a few noteworthy items from the 2016 report:

Connecticut isn’t on track for protecting 21 percent of the state as open space by 2023. The state is short of its goal of protecting 10 percent, and it’s unknown how much acreage has been protected by land trusts, municipalities and water companies that are trying to protect an additional 11 percent.

Connecticut’s forest acreage hasn’t declined significantly, but the number of birds nesting in Connecticut’s forests — both mature and young forest habitats — has been shrinking.

Connecticut protected more farmland (1,563 acres) in 2016 than in any year since 2011, and the state’s high rate of farmland loss has slowed. However, the state is still not on track to meet the goal of preserving 130,000 acres of farmland, with at least 85,000 acres in cropland.

“This report reminds us that environmental progress in the 21st century comes slowly,” Susan D. Merrow, chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, wrote in a letter to the governor. “Even highly successful efforts to reduce air emissions and water-pollution discharges can appear by some measures to go unrewarded.”

Merrow noted that the average level of pollution in Connecticut’s air was the best in decades, but the number of summertime bad air days (31) held stubbornly near the 10-year average (32).

She also noted that cities and towns again reduced their discharges of nitrogen pollution that flow into Long Island Sound, but the area of the sound with too little oxygen grew larger.

Last year, nationwide, was a year of severe drought and record-setting summer heat, according to the report, both of which affected the state’s air and water. Weather comes and goes, but a long rise in average temperatures continues to oppose the state's efforts to improve air and water quality and protect coastal resources.

Heavy rain on Connecticut streets and lawns clearly is one of the biggest reasons that water quality isn’t improving, according to the comprehensive report. Even as Connecticut has greatly improved treatment of sewage and reduced overflows of untreated waste, the percentage of assessed streams that are considered clean enough for swimming and other contact remains stuck at 30 percent.

For most streams that are impaired, the problem isn’t coming out of a pipe; it’s washing in from the human landscape, according to the report.

Connecticut’s development patterns have been fixed for decades. Most municipalities have developed around roads and commercial areas with extensive parking. The paved areas of roads, driveways and parking lots rarely shrink. The techniques available to municipalities and developers to reduce pavement are applied most often to new development, if at all.

The task of reducing stormwater runoff from already-developed areas, while doable, requires decades. Lawns can be transformed into environmentally helpful features more quickly, but widespread change is not evident, according to the report.

The report noted that, in short, “what Connecticut residents see today is likely a glimpse of their future. Low-emission vehicles might be cruising their streets in some future year, driving down air emissions and reducing some of the contaminants that wash into streams, but those streets still will be there, and so might the lawns. If it rains in the future, there still will be widespread pollution that resists improvement.”