They agreed that they would reduce the pollutants — particularly nitrogen in treated sewage — that cause oxygen levels to plummet in the western half of the Sound. (Healthy concentrations of oxygen are essential to a marine ecosystem and the creatures that live in it.) The goal was a 58.5 percent reduction, and
The result was that the Sound enjoyed a period of small but measurable water quality improvements.
In each of the last five summers, however, water quality in the Sound has been about as bad as it’s ever been. Oxygen levels have fallen close to zero in more than 300 square miles, from roughly
Yet just when efforts to save the Sound should be increasing, the Connecticut Legislature is doing the opposite. It is backing off its cleanup commitment by slashing money for sewage plant improvements. This is particularly distressing not just because of the ecological implications but because
After the 1998 cleanup agreement (and for several years before in anticipation of it), the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection worked with local communities, which own sewage plants in Connecticut that empty into the Sound, to plan for nitrogen reduction, and then helped to finance the sewage plant improvements.
From 1987 through 2002,
By how much? In 2005,
Instead, the Connecticut D.E.P. cut back on grants and loans — and on the size of the nitrogen reduction it will require. Rather than 17 percent, or 750 tons, it settled on a reduction of 1.1 percent, or just 55 tons for 2006.
But with Connecticut’s share of the Sound cleanup stalled, far too much nitrogen will continue to enter the water, where it will encourage the growth of the algae that make up most of the Sound’s plankton. The algae will then die and decompose, consuming oxygen in the process.
It’s worth recalling what low oxygen levels can mean. In 1987, virtually every harbor from
Those dire conditions led to the cleanup plan. And for a few years, oxygen levels improved. But in 2002, perhaps because of unusually warm and rainy weather, the area with the lowest oxygen levels began to grow, spreading across the waters of Westchester,
Several environmental groups in
This is a shame. Long Island Sound is both an irreplaceable ecological resource and an important economic resource. According to a study by a
For the ecological and economic values to be protected,