Funding for the protection and preservation of Long Island Sound could reach historic levels if Congress appropriates the full funding outlined in a bill that recently passed through the House of Representatives.
The Water Resources bill authorizes up to $65 million per year over the next five years for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Program. That money would be used toward restoration and stewardship, according to Curt Johnson, the president of Save the Sound, a Connecticut based environmental organization.
“There would be a tremendous amount that could be done,” he said. “From a habitat restoration point of view, it would allow a lot of big projects on rivers to be jump-started. So we could open up rivers again to historic migration of river herring and other fish that need to move from salt water into fresh water.”
Mr. Johnson said while he was encouraged at the $65 million figure, he cautioned that Congress would still need to follow through to the allocate that amount. It could end up as a smaller figure.
The legislation is now before the U.S. Senate.
Congressmen Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced the reauthorization of the funding along with Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Rosa DeLauro (D-New Haven, Conn.) earlier this month.
Mr. Zeldin said the funding would provide long-term certainty for those who rely on funding to keep the Sound clean.
“The Long Island Sound is a critical part of our way of life, culture and economy, supporting tens of billion of dollars in economic value per year,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement.
In 2017, the program faced uncertainty amid budget cuts in the EPA appropriations that had been proposed by the White House. A House of Representatives’ appropriations bill eventually included $8 million for Long Island Sound Program, an increase of $4 million from the prior year. Mr. Johnson said the most recent appropriation was $12 million, which was a historic figure at the time.
“There’s a big difference between $12 and $65 million,” he said. “So that would be historic. But again, I want to point out, that’s only an authorization.”
Save the Sound released its 2018 “Long Island Sound Report Card” Monday, a biennial report that showed improvement in Long Island Sound’s water quality. For the first time, the report included 10 years of data and an assessment of how water quality is trending in each region of the Sound. The Eastern Basin, the area directly north of the North Fork, received the highest grade with an A+, the same as last year. Areas north of western Suffolk and Nassau County saw improved grades.
“In many respects what we’re seeing is a victory for the tenets of the Clean Water Act, as well as the commitment shown by New York and Connecticut officials, the EPA, and citizens alike,” said Tracy Brown, director of Save the Sound, in a statement.
Mr. Johnson cautioned that while grades have been high for areas in the central area of the Sound near the North Fork, local bays and harbors can still run into problems. He cited the 2015 fish kill in the Peconic Estuary as an example.
“Even though the eastern part of Long Island Sound in general is doing well, there’s these localized and bayman problems you see in the Peconic or Pawcatuck [River]. Those need plans and actions. That’s another thing that this can be used for, both establishing the science and the pathway to reducing nitrogen.”