Save the Sound Pushes for Increased Long Island Sound Funding at Congressional Hearing on Reauthorization of Long Island Sound Restoration Act
Washington D.C. – Save the Sound, a program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment, testified today at the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment hearing in preparation for the 2010 reauthorization of the Long Island Sound Restoration Act, which could authorize $40 million each year for the next five years for Long Island Sound clean water, restoration, and protection projects.
“Long Island Sound is a state treasure and a vital part of the regional economy, but pollution is wreaking havoc on the ecosystem and impacting the businesses that depend on clean, healthy water in order to thrive,” said Leah Schmalz, Director of Legislative and Legal Affairs for Save the Sound. “For years our communities have united in the common purpose of protecting Long Island Sound, and with Congressional leadership and the reauthorization of the Restoration Act, we can push forward in the fight for a sewage-free waterway that is safe for swimmers and marine life.
“The Sound is a beautiful and hardworking landscape whose healthy future is a mission that is shared by leaders, advocates, and residents in both Connecticut and New York,” Schmalz said.
The Long Island Sound Restoration Act, first passed in 1990 as The Long Island Sound Improvement Act, has been reauthorized by Congress every five years and provides a framework for how Long Island Sound appropriations will be invested. In conjunction with the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act, a separate statute passed in 2006, these funds are the backbone for the many projects that improve water quality through infrastructure upgrade, scientific research, stormwater pollution controls, a variety of restoration projects, and coastal acquisition for ecosystem protection and public access.
Years of neglect have taken a toll on Long Island Sound, which contributes $8 billion to the regional economy. Failing and overburdened sewage treatment facilities result in over 2 billion gallons of raw sewage flowing unhampered into the Sound annually. Inadequately managed stormwater runoff contributes to water pollution, flooding the estuary with hypoxia-inducing nitrogen and carrying bacteria and toxins from impermeable inland surfaces right into beach water.
Last year our beaches were closed or advisoried for 135 days due to bacterial contamination, and shellfishermen lose millions of dollars when polluted shellfish beds cannot be harvested. Despite all of these challenges, as a result of recent clean water investments, there have been successes. Notably, three towns in Connecticut are engaged in stormwater pilot programs – including a Norwalk program that filters polluted runoff before it gets to the Sound – and federal dollars that help provide much-needed additional support to the state’s investment.
“The States of Connecticut and New York have invested millions of tax-payer dollars in the restoration of Long Island Sound, and now is the time for the federal government to step up and match these strong state commitments,” said Tom Baptist, Executive Director of Audubon Connecticut. “In the face of emerging challenges like global warming and sea level rise, and continuing threats like waste and storm water pollution, it is vital that the federal government continue to play a significant role in protecting the Sound.”
“We thank the members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for today’s hearing on reauthorization of the Long Island Sound Restoration Act,” Baptist continued, “and call upon their colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to match this commitment with $15 million in funding for the Sound.”
Historically, despite a yearly total authorization of $65 million ($40 million from the LIS Restoration Act and $25 million from the LIS Stewardship Act), Congress has only allocated an average of $5 million per year for Long Island Sound improvements. In a move that highlighted its commitment to the region, the House recently passed an appropriations bill that included $15 million for both the Restoration and the Stewardship Acts, a much-needed boost in funding that surpassed any previous year.
The Senate passed a similar bill, but at the significantly lower $3 million level. The two chambers will conference to arrive at a final number, largely expected to be closer to the $15 million than the $3 million. The funds are disseminated through the EPA’s Long Island Sound Study for a variety of grant projects that focus on research, pollution reduction, habitat restoration, and education.
Today’s reauthorization hearing is part of a series of Congressional hearings titled Protecting and Restoring America’s Great Waters that provide expert testimony to legislators to help suss out the impact, successes, and shortcomings of the National Estuary Program-related Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans (CCMP).
“Long Island Sound is one of our state’s most precious environmental resources, which is why I have worked hard over the years to protect its shorelines, reinvigorate its aquatic life and ensure that its banks remain a recreational and educational refuge for generations to come,” said Senator Joe Lieberman. “I will continue pushing for increased funding because I know that the Sound holds enormous value and promise for our state.”
“As a shell fisherman and father who loves to watch his girls play in the Sound, I’m grateful for the work of organizations like Save the Sound, Audubon, and Soundwaters,” said Congressman Jim Himes, D-4th. “They are our first line of defense for this beautiful and magnificent natural resource.”
In Connecticut, decisions stemming from these hearings have potentially far-reaching effects as passage of the $15 million allocation could mean that any number of the 28 financially-distressed communities could receive federal support for their clean water projects, ultimately benefitting the entire state and the economy.
“The Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment’s efforts to secure adequate levels of funding to maintain and restore the health of Long Island Sound is significant, and we are hopeful they will work with colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to fulfill this unprecedented level of funding for the Sound,” said John Kachmar, the Nature Conservancy Connecticut Chapter Long Island Sound Director.
“As Co-Chair of the Congressional Long Island Sound Caucus, I am pleased that the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment is holding today’s important hearing to examine efforts to protect and restore one of America’s great waters – the Long Island Sound,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-3). “The House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill provides a significant $12 million boost for Long Island Sound environment restoration activities and I intend to work hard to ensure that this funding level remains in the final version of this bill when it is signed into law by the President.”
See a related story in The Day.