Monday, September 25, 2006

Anyone Know What the Coast Guard's Broadwater Report Really Means? Also, Conover on New York's Ocean Ecosystem Conservation Act

Plenty of ink was employed over the weekend in reporting the basics of the Coast Guard’s Broadwater report and the scripted reactions of the Shell-TransCanada representatives, environmental groups and even Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (form the sake of your personal safety, you don’t want to stand between Blumenthal and a TV camera).

What I did not see, though, was a knowledgeable explanation of what the Coast Guard report means. Is FERC bound to make Broadwater meet the Coast Guard’s safety requirements? Can Broadwater reasonably meet them? If anyone knows, drops us a line, please.

In the meantime, David O. Conover, dean and director of the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook University, argues that the way we manage and regulate our coastal waters, including Long Island Sound, has led to a long-term ecological decline (except in places, such as New York Bay, where it hasn’t).

To turn things around, he says, we should aggressively implement a new law, the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Act. Here’s how Conover explains it, in Newsday:

The act does two things. First, it creates an Ecosystem Conservation Council consisting of the heads of nine different state agencies, including the Department of State, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the SUNY chancellor. Then, it directs the council to produce a strategic plan within two years for coordinating ocean-related activities among the agencies and to implement ecosystem-based management.

Ecosystem-based management is an approach that considers the interactions among all parts of an ecosystem - the microbes, plants, plankton, shellfish, finfish, birds and mammals - including, most important, humans. The goal is to keep oceans healthy and capable of providing the services and food that people need, like a well-tended organic garden where sunlight, nutrients, prey and predators are balanced and diseases are held in check.

This coordinated, big-picture approach differs from the present. Currently, we manage each species or consider each proposed project as if it were isolated from all others. Ecosystem-based management considers all consequences of our combined activities, using as its starting premise the interconnectedness of nature. It recognizes that we cannot control ecosystems, but we can control our own behavior. If we want healthy oceans, we can alter the messy consequences of our various effluents, emissions and extractions of food and minerals from the sea.

Some new laws are silly because they try to do too little; others are ultimately pointless because they try to do too much. Yet, assuming we understand enough to try, managing an entire ecosystem makes sense. That’s what we’ve been attempting, somewhat, on the Sound for the past two decades. Will the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Act work. Times will tell but it seems to me as if it bites off a lot. On the other hand, what do we have to lose?


Anonymous Bryan said...

I'm glad you noted the apparent irony in Dr. Conover's op-ed: that we need ecosystem-based management (EBM), yet the old ways have apparently worked for New York Harbor. I also agree that those who pushed for the bill establishing the council are aiming very high. I just hope there is a reasonable expectation of success. From a quick search of the Internet for EBM projects underway, I found this summary of a pilot EBM project in the Gulf of Maine:

Basic information on the bay's oceanography, physiography, and biology as well as human-use patterns both past and present is lacking.

Current research and monitoring efforts are disconnected and designed to inform a diversity of objectives and interests.

To gather, access and apply environmental, social and economic information requires a significant investment of time and resources as it is kept in a variety of locations, situations, and conditions.

I suspect that any EBM project will come to the same conclusions. The real challenge will come in answering the questions and, more importantly, funding the research and funding the remediation/restoration projects. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for new sources of funding to come along for EBM implementation while we continue to fund targeted projects at current levels. I anticipate that the existing funding will need to be reallocated, which creates some big hurdles.

Funding is targeted to specific organisms, contaminants, etc. in part because the sources of the funding are focused on those issues. From what I understand of the EBM approach, the waterbody will be addressed holisticly; that is (presumably), the focus will be on the highest priority of the waterbody (hypoxia, for example). Until someone tells me otherwise,

I would expect that it means that funding would be directed to those projects that address the highest need. Instead of funding provided by these disparate sources, I envision funding going into a pool, to be disbursed based on the available research to target the greatest threat. Under that model, will a National Fish & Wildlife grant be able to fund a project targeted at nitrogen reduction from sewage treatment plants, even though the project doesn't target a specific animal (yet, reducing hypoxia improvements the habitat of said animal)? Should local governments be expected to give up the funding for their pet projects (open space acquisition, shoreline restoration, waterfront revitalization) for the greater good of an improved eco-system? If not, where will the additional funds for EBM come from?

11:36 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Well said, Bryan. I think what we need are small but concrete plans to really make a difference and not this gassy, EBM approach that spins around and around without specific mitigation funding. That's called top-down planning.

A "bottom-up" approach would identify the sewer outfalls of several kinds, such as municipal treated waste, storm sewer, and so forth, and rank them as to potential inputs and NPDES emissions (tons, ppm or percent depending on chemistry; perhaps some adjustments for non-point sources).

Then one would fund very specific projects with engineering, analysis, concrete, and a cost-benefit thing. Do the line items that have the lowest costs, the "biggest bang for the buck," and other rational things. Then get it done, man, as best as you can while you have the money and stop messing around with platitudes. In the amount of time we can fool around talking about all these synergisms we could have poured a whole bunch of concrete, laid pipe, created passive treatment systems for stormwater, etc.

And actually did something good.

That's my thoughts, anyway. /Sam

10:10 PM  

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