Thursday, March 09, 2006

Long Island Sound Cleanup: Reducing Nitrogen in Westchester and New York City

Until recently, Connecticut has done a pretty good job of improving sewage treatment plants and reducing pollutants that enter Long Island Sound: from 1994 through 2004, Connecticut sewage plants cut the amount of nitrogen that flows into the Sound from 57,600 pounds a day to 36,100 pounds a day.

Nitrogen causes the severe drop in summertime concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the western half of the Sound. So one would think that a 37 percent decrease would help the Sound considerably. And yet over the past four summers, the western end of the Sound has been in worse shape than at any time since the late 1980s.

To me that points to the importance of nitrogen removal programs in the parts of the Sound’s watershed that are nearest to where water quality is worst -- Westchester, Nassau, and New York City.

Today’s Journal News has a story with a good summary and good details about Westchester’s program.

Westchester's four sewage treatment plants by the Sound — New Rochelle, Mamaroneck, Port Chester and Blind Brook — with a small amount from North Castle, add 4,200 pounds of nitrogen a day to the waters, the EPA's Long Island Sound Office said. The county must cut the rate to 1,780 pounds per day by 2014….

Westchester, in reaching its goal, faces a challenge familiar in the heavily developed lower end of the county — a lack of space. Of the four sewage treatment plants that empty into the Sound, only the one in New Rochelle has some elbow room to expand, Butler said. The Mamaroneck, Port Chester and Blind Brook plants have no room to grow, he said. So systems must be added in existing space.

With the help of engineering firms, the county tried four systems, three using bacteria to further break down waste and one that used high doses of chlorine. Butler said the county's plan would likely include one or more of the systems that use bacteria and the plants. The chlorine system presents problems. The chemical is expensive and must be removed before the treated waste reaches the Sound.

The county is putting together a final plan that will be submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for approval later this year. By 2009, the county is expected to reach an interim goal, cutting the nitrogen almost by half, to 2,454 pounds per day, Landi said.

The story, written by my friend and former colleague Ken Valenti, also says that New York City has used temporary fixes to cut the amount of nitrogen it puts into the Sound, to 75,000 pounds a day, from 95,900.

New York City … agreed in January to spend $710 million to take more nitrogen out of its sewage. New York also was ordered to pay a $2.7 million civil penalty, but the city was given a three-year grace period; it has until 2017 to reach its goal of cutting nitrogen input to 40,000 pounds a day.

(As I’ve said before, if I were Westchester County and I knew that the city had been given an extra three years to reach the nitrogen-reduction goal, I’d consider asking for the same thing).

Ken quotes me, accurately:

Tom Andersen, an environmental advocate and author of the book "This Fine Piece of Water — An Environmental History of Long Island Sound," said the water would improve when New York City, Westchester and Nassau counties make progress in their nitrogen removal the way Connecticut has.

"It's obviously important for Connecticut to do it, but I think what it shows is that until Westchester and New York City and the places in Nassau get their nitrogen-reduction programs going, we're not going to see a whole lot of improvements down here," he said.

Here’s the story. Ken also wrote a sidebar on the annual rite of begging the federal government for sufficient money to keep EPA’s Long Island Sound Program going.


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