Although it’s way too early to say for sure, and way too uncertain to be complacent, conditions on Long Island Sound seem to be improving.In the most highly stressed part of the Sound, between Queens, the Bronx, Westchester and Nassau Counties, concentrations of dissolved oxygen – a key indicator of habitat health – have been significantly better in two of the last three summers than the 20-year median, an improvement that’s probably attributable at least in part to upgrades at sewage treatment plants.
More locally, reduced levels of pathogens enabled Nassau County to reopen 2,500 acres of shellfish beds in Hempstead Harbor in 2011, for the first time in 40 years. Shellfishing is part of the Sound’s legacy, and safe, sustainable shellfishing should be part of its future.
Improvements like these and others are the work of dozens, if not scores, of committed people and institutions. Four of them were honored this month by the Clean Water/Jobs Coalition, which presented them with its annual Sound Guardian award.
The honorees were Commissioner Joseph Martens of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Commissioner Carter Strickland of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, for a landmark agreement to use green infrastructure to keep polluted stormwater from reaching local waters.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand received the Sound Guardian award for her leadership in working to reauthorize the Long Island Sound Stewardship and Restoration Act in Washington D.C.
The final honoree was Skanska USA Civil Northeast, for its work building wastewater treatment plants that have led to significant improvements in the waters surrounding New York City.
The Clean Water/Jobs Coalition gives the Sound Guardian Awards to individuals and organizations who have made a difference in the protection, restoration and stewardship of the Sound. This year the Coalition gave the awards at a reception on April 19 at the Water Club in Manhattan.
The Coalition is a partnership of Audubon New York, the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc., and the New York State Laborers. It was formed in 1991 to lobby and advocate for funding for public works projects that will help revive the Sound’s habitat, make the Sound safer for recreation and stimulate the local economy.
Although the towns in northern Westchester may seem far from Long Island Sound, large parts of Lewisboro, Pound Ridge, Bedford and North Castle are in the Sound’s watershed, and the Mianus, Mill, Byram and Silvermine rivers all flow through northern Westchester into the Sound.
Among the more promising innovations for cleaner water and recreational opportunities is green infrastructure – the use of rooftop vegetation, porous pavement, rain gardens and other green technologies to manage the flow of stormwater and help reduce contaminants in that stormwater.In March, Commissioners Martens and Strickland announced an agreement to invest $2.4 billion in green infrastructure in parts of Queens that drain into Flushing Bay (an embayment of Long Island Sound), as well as sections of Brooklyn that drain into Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal.
The project will be spread over 18 years and is designed to significantly reduce the amount of stormwater that reaches local waterways.
Senator Gillibrand, D-NY, is being honored for her leadership in working to pass the Long Island Sound Stewardship and Restoration Act.
The act provides crucial funding for the U.S. EPA office that has been overseeing the long-term cleanup of the Sound. It also provides funding for wastewater treatment plant upgrades that directly improve water quality. Its Stewardship component identifies critical ecological and recreational sites on the Sound, and provides money to protect and improve them.
The Restoration and Stewardship Act is up for reauthorization, but recent funding cuts to the program threaten to undermine the progress made at improving the Sound’s health at a time when demand for projects is outpacing available funding by more than two-to-one.
Skanska USA Civil Northeast has completed dozens of water and wastewater treatment projects throughout the United States and is one of the nation’s top constructors of water and wastewater treatment projects.
Skanska is working on three major facilities for the New York City DEP: the Croton Water Filtration Plant in the Bronx, the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn and the Catskill/Delaware UV Disinfection Facility in Westchester County, all of which will help dramatically improve the quality of the water in New York City.
Be sure to check out the KatonahGreen.com website for upcoming green events, to join the Meetup, the local Green Guide and more.