Westport, CT and Glen Cove, NY (June 8, 2015) — A first-ever ecosystem health report card released today shows Long Island Sound earning grades of very good for water quality in Eastern Long Island (an “A”) to very poor for water quality in the Western Narrows (an “F”) near New York City.
The evaluation covers the entire Long Island Sound, a vast watershed home to 9 million people that includes about 1,300 square miles and close to 1 million acres of open and coastal waters. The report card assessment was conducted by scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
“This report should serve as a roadmap for state, local and federal officials and advocates in directing needed resources and attention to the most severely threatened areas of the Sound,” said Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, speaking at the official Connecticut unveiling of the report card held today in Westport, Connecticut. “The Long Island Sound remains one of our nation’s most precious and fragile natural resources. This powerful and important report shows what we have long suspected — parts of the Sound have rebounded exceptionally from decades of environmental abuse, while other parts of this delicate ecosystem remain very much in danger.”
“I first got involved in government as a teenager because I was bothered by pollution in the river near my house,” said Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy. “I started volunteering to clean it up, but soon enough, I began paying attention to our elected officials and the policies that were failing to protect and preserve our community’s natural resources. The Long Island Sound report card announced today demonstrates important progress, but it also clearly outlines how much more we must do to protect this regional treasure and lifeblood for our economy. Today’s report should guide federal, state, and local partners as we continue to work to preserve the water quality throughout the watershed, protect our regional forests and nearby farms, and strengthen the resilience of the Sound and its coastal flood plains against extreme weather caused by climate change.”
“It has been and continues to be a top priority for me in Congress to protect and preserve Long Island Sound,” said New York Congressman Steve Israel, speaking today at the official New York unveiling of the report card held today in Glen Cove, N.Y. “This report card makes it clear that while progress has been made to improve the water quality of the Sound, more must be done to preserve this economic engine and local treasure’s waters and coastline. Working with federal, state and local partners I will continue to fight for the Sound for future generations of New Yorkers.”
“The Long Island Sound Report Card shows us that although some parts of the Sound earned high marks for water quality, other parts require greater attention and care to combat pollution,” said New York Congressman Eliot Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Not surprisingly, the findings show a direct correlation between elevated population levels and unhealthy water quality, proving human activity — be it runoff from streets, septic systems of agriculture projects — is the main culprit. The Sound is improving, but more resources and greater awareness are needed to maintain this positive trend. As a member of the bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus in the House, I will continue to champion efforts to preserve and enhance this important source of natural beauty.”
“This report card is an important tool to help us set benchmarks by which to gauge our progress,” said Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. “And as this report card demonstrated, we have much more to do to restore the health of Long Island Sound and by targeting our efforts we can maximum our progress. This project is an excellent example of good collaboration between state, federal, and community partners. I commend the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for leading the charge on this important project, which will inform work on the local, state and federal levels to improve the health of the Long Island Sound.”
“The Sound is the common factor that ties everyone together in my Congressional District,” said Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes. “It’s the center of our recreation, our industry, our food, and our culture. I’m glad to see that the overall health of the water is pretty good, but that’s not enough for me or the people I talk to every day. It’s time we increase our efforts to raise water quality and health throughout the sound for people and the environment until we earn that A+.”
“We must always protect our waterways to ensure they remain clean and healthy, and are protected for years to come,” said New York Congressman Lee Zeldin. “The Long Island Sound is an essential environmental resource that is so important to the life, culture and economy of Long Island. In Congress, I will remain dedicated to protecting our environment and waterways on the East End of Long Island.”
The westernmost portion of the sound, the Western Narrows region near New York City, scored the worst mark, an F. The easternmost portion of the sound, near the Connecticut and Rhode Island border, scored the best grade, an A. There is an east-to-west gradient of healthy to unhealthy water quality, corresponding to the progression of less developed and lower populated areas to more developed and highly populated areas.
“The report card incorporates a variety of fish, bird and human health indicators that tell the story of Long Island Sound,” said Amanda Bassow, director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Northeastern Regional Office. “What’s clear from the report is that we all care about Long Island Sound, we are still working on improving it, and we’re going to continue to help in the future. What’s also clear is that the Sound has a strong new ally — the Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative, which funded this effort.”
“With more than $17 billion annually in ecological and economic value, Long Island Sound is an important resource used in many ways by many people,” said Hugh Killin, III, executive director of the Jeniam Foundation. ”The Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative supported development of a report card because it will help guide actions we can take individually and as communities, across the region and in our own backyards, to improve the health of the sound.”
“A healthy sound is a vital asset of a regional economy,” said David M. Okorn, executive director of the Long Island Community Foundation. “The Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative supported development of the report cards because clean water is important to human health, it’s important to the environment, and it’s important to the economy.”
A companion report card was released evaluating the ecosystem health of Norwalk Harbor, which earned a grade of C+. This grade means the quality of water is fair, with a mix of good and poor levels of water quality. Scores are determined by averaging two water quality indicators (water clarity and dissolved oxygen) with three biotic indicators. The health of the harbor was determined to be good for invertebrates such as shellfish, moderate for fish, and poor for crustaceans such as crabs.
A companion report card also was released evaluating the ecosystem health of Inner Hempstead Harbor, comprised of the Middle Harbor, Lower Harbor and Glen Cove Creek. Oxygen levels in the inner harbor have greatly improved over the years, earning a B+ grade. The D+ overall grade for the inner harbor shows that there is still work to be done, especially to improve nitrogen levels and water clarity. Despite the low grade, this is a remarkable comeback story for Hempstead Harbor. Marine trawls conducted in 1987 found no fish and 80 percent mortality of bottom-dwellers such as starfish and crabs due to a lack of oxygen. Hard-won improvements in water quality allowed Nassau County to seed almost 3 million clams and oysters to repopulate the harbor from 2007 to 2009. A healthy shellfish population promises to further improve water quality through natural filtration as well as to restore a part of Long Island Sound’s ecosystem and marine heritage.
Robert Klee, Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), said: “Anyone who lives near the Sound, or who takes advantage of the Sound for fishing, boating, swimming and other outdoor activities, is a witness to the positive response we have made to the major environmental challenges we have faced over the last 20 years. The challenge now is to build on the success we have achieved. This report card format translates detailed scientific data into clear grades that can help us galvanize people and communities to protect the sound and their local harbors and assess progress. Long Island Sound is a unique and valuable natural resource. We are blessed with its presence but also obligated to do all in our power to make certain we leave a Sound that future generations are able to enjoy.”
“The Long Island Sound and Hempstead Harbor report cards are useful tools that help us to both see the progress we have made and to address the continued challenges in preserving and restoring water quality, wetlands, seagrass, and fish and shellfish,” said Kathy Moser, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Natural Resources Assistant Commissioner. “We must act together to ensure that these important resources and the services a healthy sound provides, including protecting our homes from storms and floods, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for wildlife are around for generations to come.”
“Water quality is an indispensable component of a stable and healthy environment for human and wildlife alike,” said Tony McDowell, Executive Director of Earthplace, home of the Harbor Watch program. “The report card has the potential to be a powerful tool to improve public awareness and serve as a catalyst for changing behaviors.”
“We’ve made great strides to clean up Hempstead Harbor. At one time the challenges seemed insurmountable,” said Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton. “The work of the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor and the Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee has returned the Harbor to a place where families want to swim, fish, kayak, observe wildlife, and walk along shoreline trails. Let’s continue to find the resources to improve the health of the harbor and to make surrounding communities even more desirable places to live.”
The aim of the report cards is to provide a transparent, timely and geographically detailed assessment of the health of Long Island Sound and two regionally important harbors whose waters flow into the sound. Long Island Sound health is defined as the progress of five water quality indicators (total nitrogen, total phosphorus, chlorophyll a, dissolved oxygen, water clarity) toward scientifically derived ecological thresholds or goals. These indicators are combined into an overarching Water Quality Index, which is presented as a subregion percent score. Norwalk Harbor health is defined as the progress of two water quality indicators (dissolved oxygen and water clarity) and three biotic (fish, crustaceans, and other invertebrates) toward scientifically derived ecological thresholds or goals. Inner Hempstead Harbor health is defined as the progress of three water quality indicators (dissolved inorganic nitrogen, dissolved oxygen, and water clarity) toward scientifically derived ecological thresholds or goals.
“By creating this scientifically based report card process, we can track our progress in protecting and restoring Long Island Sound,” said Dr. Bill Dennison, a scientist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who led the report card effort. “It will be challenging to protect and restore Long Island Sound in the face of population pressure and climate change, but it is heartening that there are still regions in the Sound with good water quality, thriving eelgrass meadows and abundant fish and shellfish. It is also a testament to the strong partnerships and robust monitoring programs that we could produce these Sound-wide and embayment report cards.”
For more information about the Long Island Sound Health Report Card including region-specific data and downloadable graphics, visit longislandsound.ecoreportcard.org.
—from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation