Connecticut's Decision to Cut Back on the Cleanup of Long Island Sound: A Primer
1. Connecticut is responsible for reducing the amount of nitrogen that enters Long Island Sound through sewage treatment plants by 58.5 percent, by 2014, as part of the state- and EPA-approved plan to ease the Sound’s dissolved oxygen crisis.
2. By all accounts, Connecticut has done a good job and is about halfway toward the 58.5 percent goal.
3. It has done this by helping to fund improvements at sewage treatment plants, which the local communities own and operate. The mechanism for this is the Clean Water Fund. Through the Fund, the state provides grants to cover up to 30 percent of the nitrogen removal costs, and low-interest (2 percent) loans to cover the rest.
4. From 1987 through 2002, the state has put an average of $47.9 million a year into the Clean Water Fund.
5. Starting in 2003, the state’s General Assembly began taking money out of the Clean Water Fund to pay for other programs. The GA has taken an average of $7.6 million a year from the Fund.
6. $2.8 million remains in the Fund.
7. Last year the GA authorized $20 million a year for 2006 and 2007, a 58 percent reduction over what it had authorized from 1987-2002 (it’s a sad irony that the percent reduction in funding is the same as the 2014 nitrogen reduction goal).
8. Because in recent years there has not been as much money in the Fund as there used to be, the Connecticut DEP has had to scale back the amount of money it disburses, through grants and low interest loans, for sewage plant upgrades.
9. The result will be that in 2006 the amount of nitrogen that reaches the Sound through Connecticut sewage treatment plants will be 1.5 million pounds more than it would have been had the GA continued to fund the CWF at its traditional level.
10. Because there’s absolutely no indication from any member of the General Assembly that they intend to reverse this trend, Connecticut’s part of the cleanup of the Sound has essentially been stalled. Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound estimates that instead of reaching the 58.5 percent goal by 2014, Connecticut will get there 23 years later, in 2037.
11. After a long period of small but noticeable improvement, dissolved oxygen conditions in the Sound have gotten noticeably worse over the last three summers. According to Connecticut Audubon:
This past summer, the area where dissolved oxygen in the Sound was below 5.0 milligram per liter (mg/l) was the second largest on record. The summer of 2003 recorded the largest area of the Sound with a dissolved oxygen level below 1 mg/l and total area below 5 mg/l.