Monday, April 30, 2007

Why the Emphasis on Runoff When We Know that Sewage is the Sound's Biggest Pollutant?

Two more newspapers got around today to writing about the Long Island Sound survey, which came out last Wednesday (here and here). And there’s an editorial in the Hartford Courant that emphasizes the part of the survey that showed that most people don’t realize that stormwater and runoff pollute the Sound and that some of the runoff comes from their own properties.

Controlling runoff and reducing the amount of pollution is runoff is sort of important, but I’m surprised at the emphasis it has gotten, both in the survey and in the news accounts of the survey.
By far the biggest source of pollution in Long Island Sound is treated sewage. It is the source of the vast majority of the nitrogen that triggers the low levels of dissolved oxygen that make much of the western end of the Sound uninhabitable for marine life in late summer.

The second biggest source of nitrogen is air pollution. Nitrogen emitted from car tailpipes and power plants falls into the Sound and adds to the nitrogen from sewage plants.

And of the important sources of nitrogen, the smallest and the most difficult to control is runoff from streets and driveways and septic systems in the Sound’s watershed. Not only is it hard to control, it’s hard to measure. It’s been a while since I’ve asked, but the last time I did I was told that less than 10 percent of the nitrogen that damages the Sound comes from runoff.

So to me it’s not that huge of a deal if people don’t realize that runoff contributes to the Sound’s problems and if, because they don’t realize that, they don’t do the few small things that may or may not reduce the tiny amount of pollution they are personally responsible for.

Far more troubling to me is that most people don’t know that treated sewage and sewage plants are the biggest polluters of Long Island Sound (the survey is here). Presumably they also don’t realize that upgrading sewage plants is the single best thing we as a society can do for the Sound. And that perhaps explains why Connecticut for years was allowed to get away with ignoring its responsibility to upgrade sewage plants by failing to put money in its Clean Water Fund.

Convincing people not to wash their cars in the driveways is important, I suppose, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to sewage plants. We really should keep our priorities straight.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Last Week's Deluge Caused Big Problems in Westchester But Not at the Sewage Treatment Plants

I was skeptical when I read in the paper last week that the heavy rains from the northeaster did not disrupt the treatment process at Westchester's sewage plants. I clearly remember the days (as recently as the late 1990s) when heavy rain damaged equipment and treatment processes, and left the plant in Mamaroneck, for example, unable to properly treat sewage for weeks at a time.

But I'm told now that despite a record amount of water flowing through the plants during and after the northeaster, and even though they had to resort to backup power, all four of Westchester's Sound shore sewage plants performed admirably. No damage, no drop in treatment levels.

The plants are owned and operated by the county. They come under incredible stress because the sewers leading to them (which are owned by the municipalities) are in such poor shape that they get flooded with rainwater, which ought to be flowing not into the sewage treatment plants but through storm sewers and into local streams and the Sound itself.

That situation hasn't changed much in the 25 years since I first learned of it, which leads me to believe that the treatment plants performed better last week because the people running them and working in them wanted them to perform better -- in other words they were diligent about their jobs and took their responsibilities seriously.

If that's indeed the case, they deserve credit.

Here’s an exchange between me and someone who knows about the county’s sewage plants:

Me: "This brings to mind a big storm back in the spring of '98 or '99 (not sure when but Spano was the county exec), that did a lot of damage to the Mamaroneck plant."

“That was in May '98 just after Andy Spano took office in January. That disaster was due to a power failure in Mamaroneck and failure of the Plant's back up generator to start. It was one of two events (the other was the big Yonkers spill earlier that same Spring) that lead to the DEC 98 Consent Order regarding I&I… [inflow and infiltration]”

Me: "The fact that the plants performed well this time, was it because of better equipment or better preparedness on the part of the staff?”

“Better preparedness mostly, although I would also say that Nick Benevento, the current plant supervisor, is first rate and completely committed to his job and he has a good core team. We now have emergency response plans in place, training to the plans and we test all back up generators every month. When Con Ed warned us the power would be cut this time, we engaged the Plant's back up generator (which can also function automatically when necessary) and ASAP brought in a Con Ed diesel generator - at our expense - put it to work and put the plant generator back into its back up role, so that if the Con Ed generator failed (any generator can do that) we would still have a back up. Belt and suspenders.”

This person went on to say that the events in ’98 led to a “never again” attitude:

"I credit Tony Landi, John D'Aquino (retired a few years ago) Adam Zabinski and Tom Lauro and ultimately Andy Spano and Larry Schwartz. The latter two demanded it, and the former four made it happen. Of the four, after tonight's retirement party for Tony, only Tom is left."

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Survey Results: We Don't Know Much About the Sound

Here are some excerpts from the Long Island Sound survey (click here to see my earlier post) that seemed to me most interesting and relevant:

Residents hold mixed views of the safety and quality of water in the Long Island Sound. Long Island residents, who use the Sound more heavily than residents of other coastal watershed regions, are more likely to believe that water quality is good. In contrast, Westchester and Bronx/Queens residents, who visit the Sound less often, perceived it to be more polluted and less safe for swimming and fishing. These differing perceptions may reflect reality. The western section of Long Island Sound has experienced poorer water quality over time than the eastern section. Moreover, roughly a quarter of residents from Westchester, Bronx, and Queens do not know enough to comment on the water quality of the Sound. ...

A majority of Long Island (59%) and Connecticut (57%) residents feel it is safe to swim in the Sound, compared to a little over a third of people from Westchester (37%) and the Bronx/Queens (36%). Of course, that still leaves roughly a third of Long Island and Connecticut
residents who view the Sound as unsafe for swimming. There are similar regional differences in the perceived safety of local fish and shellfish for human consumption. Over half of Long Islanders (54%), and just under a half of Connecticut (48%) residents feel it is safe to eat fish and shellfish from the Sound, compared to 36% of people from Bronx and Queens, and 28% from Westchester....

Long Island Sound also gets mixed reviews from residents when they were asked outright to rate water quality. A majority of LIS watershed residents in all four regions rate water quality as fair or poor. Once again, Long Island residents hold the most positive views of the Sound but even a majority of Long Island residents rate the water quality as fair or poor. Only 40% of Long Islanders felt the water quality was excellent or good. There was no difference between eastern (Suffolk) and western (Nassau) residents in their rating of water quality. Perceptions of water quality are worse in other regions of the LIS watershed with only 30% of Connecticut residents, 21% of Bronx and Queens residents, and 13% of Westchester residents rating it as excellent or good. We should also note that almost 2 out of every 10 watershed residents in the Bronx /Queens and Westchester could not rate water quality …. Western residents of Connecticut rated water quality as somewhat worse (64% rated it as fair or poor) than those living in the east (51%), perhaps reflecting actual differences in water quality....

It is important to underscore that more frequent use of the Sound is related to a positive rating of water quality. In general, residents who recently participated in a greater variety of activities at the Sound were more likely than others to rate the water quality positively and view it as having improved over the last five years. For example, of those who had undertaken at least three different activities at the Sound last summer (either going to the beach, hiking, swimming, boating, or fishing), 42% rated the water quality as good or excellent, compared to only 19% of those who had not done anything at the Sound (Figure 3). Of course, even those who had been relatively active at the Sound and engaged in at least three different activities, still had reservations about water quality....

Most residents on Long Island (85%), Connecticut (77%), and to a lesser extent Westchester (53%) have an outdoor garden or lawn for which they are responsible. And a majority of these lawns are cared for by a household member. Use of a gardening service (solely or in combination with care provided by a household resident) is most common on Long Island (46%), followed by Westchester (38%), Bronx/Queens (34%) and was least common in Connecticut (19%). Most garden owners use fertilizers, a major source of nonpoint pollution, on their lawn. With the exception of Connecticut residents, just under a half of garden owners fertilized their lawns more than once a year, a rate that probably exceeds recommended practice. Between a quarter and a third of residents in all regions fertilized their lawns roughly once a year. Lawn fertilization was least common in Connecticut where a greater number of residents never fertilized their lawn (26% compared to about 13% on Long Island). There had been no obvious change in the rate of lawn fertilization with almost three-quarters of lawn owners reporting that they fertilized their lawn at the same rate as five years ago. Garden owners were also asked whether or not they used a slow or fast release fertilizer. Roughly a third used a fast release product and another third did not know, suggesting that up to two-thirds have not adopted slow-release products designed to reduce nonpoint water pollution. There was no east-west difference in the use of slow fertilizer on Long island or Connecticut....

On the question concerning the single most important source of water pollution in the Sound, we included both sewage treatment facilities and water runoff as correct answers. No more than 40% of residents in any area got this right…

Although environmental knowledge is low, concern is high, a finding that emerges within the nation as a whole…. Roughly 90% of residents in all regions agree that humans are severely abusing the environment. Between 60 and 70% disagree that the balance of nature is strong enough to cope with the impacts of modern industrial nations. Somewhere between 45% and 65% of residents across the different regions of the LIS watershed feel the “ecological crisis” has not been greatly exaggerated. Between 70% and 80% agree that if things continue on their present course, we will soon experience a major ecological catastrophe. And roughly 70% said protecting the environment was more important to them than encouraging economic growth....

Despite evidence to the contrary, roughly 70% of residents do not believe they do anything that worsens the quality of water in the Long Island Sound. A closer look revealed that those who thought they did not affect water quality negatively were just as likely to partake in harmful activities (e.g. washing car in driveway, using the quick release fertilizer), as those who thought they may affect it negatively. Moreover, a majority of residents did not think there was anything they could do to improve the quality of water in Long Island Sound, although they believed that if other residents changed their everyday behavior water quality in the Sound would improve (Figures 7 & 8). This suggests a deep-seated failure to understand (or care about) how one’s personal behavior impacts local water quality....

I couldn't find anything in the survey about an overal margin of error, but here what it says about margins of error in different regions:

The margin of error varies in each region. It is +/- 4.9% on Long Island, +/- 4.4% in Connecticut, +/- 6.8% in Westchester and +/- 9.5% in the Bronx/Queens.

The Bronx/Queens margin of error is high, and when you consider that the strip of water between the Bronx and Queens is consistently referred to as the East River (which it's not) rather than Long Island Sound, maybe that accounts for some of the ignorance about the Sound and its problems in those boroughs. I put less faith therefore in the survey results for the Bronx and Queens. The rest of it seems not just fascinating and instructive, but pretty solid.


A New Survey Says People Don't Realize that Sewage Pollutes the Sound

EPA's Long Island Sound office has surveyed people who live near Long Island Sound, asking them a bunch of questions about their knowledge of and attitudes toward the Sound and the environment in general.

It's long and I haven't gotten through it all yet, but it's an eye-opener, and is worth a look. The most amazing thing I've found in it so far: most people who live near the Sound don't realize that sewage and runoff are the major sources of pollution in the Sound.

You can find a link to the study here. The only newspaper that seems to have written about it today is the Courant; David Funkhouser's story is here.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Full Funding for Clean Water in Connecticut Is Closer but It's Not a Reality Yet

Most of the press continues to ignore the goings-on in Hartford over the Clean Water Fund (in fact the media have pretty much ignored it since the beginning, which is one of the reasons the politicians were able to get away with not putting nearly enough money into the fund), but Bob Miller at the Danbury News Times is an exception.
He filed a brief yesterday about an Assembly committee vote to put $220 million into the fund, and today he has a fuller account, here.
As Leah Schmalz of Save the Sound and Kachina Walsh-Weaver of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities point out, final funding is far from certain. The General Assembly has to approve it still, which means the legislators have to be made aware that voters will be taking notes for future reference if they don't.


Ban Leaf Blowers

Lawns aren’t completely frivolous, and sometimes a lawn can be useful – they are great for kids to play on, for example. But the bigger a lawn, the more purely ostentatious it is, particularly in the towns around here, where a big lawn is a symbol of wealth or gracious living or something – maybe even the weird desire to think of yourself as part of the English gentry.

Still, if you want to have a big lawn, I guess that’s your business. But in an era when global warming and climate change are nightmares that are about to come true, what seems to me to be no longer just your business is how you take care of your lawn. And if you use a leaf blower regularly or hire a crew that uses leaf blowers, you’re being irresponsible in a way that transcends some of the other more obvious irresponsibilities, like driving an SUV (although people who drive Hummers deserve a special contempt).

If a lawn is a frivolity, using fossil fuels in this era to clear a lawn of leaves and grass is something worse – maybe not a crime against nature but a violation at least.

Westchester County just passed a law that will require cleaner-burning leaf blowers to be used in the county in two years. That’s fine, I guess, but it doesn’t really go far enough.

They’re noisy, they pollute, they’re used for an inessential activity, and they contribute in their own small way to global warming. So while what Westchester County did is better than nothing, my own solution is simpler: Ban leaf blowers.

1:20 p.m. update, department of coincidences: And then there's this vote to ban leaf blowers in the summer in Yonkers.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

After Years of Neglect, Connecticut Moves Closer To Doing the Right Thing for Long Island Sound

An important legislative committee in Hartford wants the state of Connecticut to increase Governor Jodi Rell's proposal for the Clean Water Fund to $220 million over the next two years; Rell asked for $140 million, which was judged good but not quite good enough after year's of putting anything but a pittance into the fund.

The committee's decision has to go to the General Assembly for approval. The Danbury News Times has a brief story about it, here. The money, of course, would go toward fixing sewage plants and other infrastructure throughout the state, including the sewage plants that empty into Long Island Sound, which I wrote about here and lots of other places.


Questions About a New Power Cable that Will Cross the Sound from Norwalk to Huntington

From Bryan Brown, on Long Island:

I recently found out about another cable project to span Long Island Sound from Huntington to Norwalk. There's a 2MB PDF
at this link that is the joint proposal between the Long Island Power Authority, the Town of Huntington and Connecticut Light & Power.

The proposal includes a discussion of the environmental impacts, at least as presented by LIPA. I raise a few questions in bringing this matter to your attention:

(1) Is anyone paying attention to this project?

(2) If so, how have the impacts of this cable project been rationalized vis-a-vis the outcry against the pipe associated with Broadwater and other pipeline projects?

(3) Are people willing to accept at face value LIPA's take on the environmental impacts?

The background info will, in part, answer some of my own questions. The proposed cable (a single cable) will replace seven cables that lie directly on the seabed and have been problematic. Some of the cables are not working because they were damaged by an anchor a few years ago. The damage resulted in the release of mineral oil to Long Island Sound. The old cables are supposed to be removed and replaced with this single cable that will be buried up to 10 feet below the seabed. The new cable doesn't require dielectric fluid (i.e., mineral oil). So, in essence, LIPA is replacing an old, frayed "extension cord" with a new, perhaps better extension cord.

It's not a new crossing per se but it will require the use of a sea plow to bury it, with the attending seabed disturbance. This replacement extension cord will allow Long Island to continue to purchase power from Connecticut in the same way that the new "extension cords" connecting Long Island to New Jersey will enable that market.

The joint proposal includes a discussion of the alternatives, including a HVDC cable (the proposed cable is AC), new local power plants, new local distributed generation and additional demand-side management and "Surprise! Surprise!" (spoken in my best Gomer Pyle voice), the cable comes out as the best alternative, even better than finding ways to consume less energy.

So I'll add a fourth question: Will LIPA's evaluation of the economics of this project receive any local scrutiny?

(I should also add that the project has been on the drawing board for a few years but only recently was reactivated. There is a public hearing coming up on May 15 in Northport, so unless one is checking the New York State Department of Public Service filings (my source) or was aware of it before (not me), it is news. I don't know what the regulatory process is for Connecticut and whether hearings will be held there.)



Monday, April 23, 2007

Eating Close to Home

Those of us who think we’d be better off if our sources of food were closer to us should read the latest dispatch from Michael Pollan, who explained in Sunday’s Times Magazine why the Farm Bill about to come before Congress is bad not just for us elitists who can afford to shop at farmers markets for half the year but also for less well-off people looking to make the most out of their food money (and for the country's immigration problems, by the way).

Among many other good points, Pollan says that federal farm subsidies have made it possible for the price of corn-syrup-sweetened soft drinks to fall over the years while the price of real food has risen steeply:

...the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent.

Here’s also a link to a January story in the Times mag whose subtitle should become the slogan of anyone interested in seeing the American way of eating improve: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

In fact just go here and read through the list. Pollan's one of the most important journalists working today.

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Renewal in the Sound (in the New York Times)

For those looking for a concise summary of the situation on Long Island Sound, you could do worse than the editorial the Times ran in the weekly sections yesterday. It includes a tiny bit of history, a summary of the problems and the symptoms, and a call for more government funding. As for nitrogen reduction, it says this.

The results, so far, have been impressive — a 25- to 30-percent reduction in nitrogen, roughly speaking, a figure that is sure to improve once an agreement struck last year between New York City and Albany to upgrade four plants along the East River kicks in. These plants produce nearly half the nitrogen that enters the Sound, and it is not stretching things to say that failure to live up to this agreement, which will cost the city at least $700 million, could ruin the entire effort.

Backsliding by the city would also gravely insult the local communities that, at considerable cost, have tried to reduce their own contribution to the problem. Norwalk and Stamford, Conn., have been particularly aggressive in upgrading their treatment plants. Westchester County, which was lagging, has become much more active.

(The truth is, we're still waiting to see Westchester's nitrogen reduction plan, but that's a minor point, I guess.)

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Rising Sea Levels Seem Likely to Doom Some of Long Island Sound's Marsh-Nesting Birds

I've been avoiding the subject of global warming and climate change here mainly because you can read about it just about everywhere else. But I noticed a story this morning about how ornithologists in Connecticut are looking into how climate change, and in particular the expected rise in sea level, will affect a local species, the salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrow.

The results of the research, in short, are this: if you're interested in birds and you haven't seen and observed a salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrow, don't wait around too long because they're likely to be gone (as will, it seems likely, much of Long Island Sound's salt marshes). Higher tides and bigger storm surges will flood salt marshes more frequently, destroying habitat where it doesn't actually kill nestlings.

This story, from the Greenwich Time, does a good job explaining things (although it makes the hard-to-believe assertion in the first sentence that Connecticut is home to 20 percent of the population of salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrows, and then fails to mention or account for that assertion again).

There are two species of sharp-tailed sparrows -- Nelson's and salt marsh. Until about a dozen years ago they were considered one species. The salt marsh sharp-tailed nests from the Delmarva Peninsula north to Maine, a small range which I suppose could mean that 20 percent of them do live in Connecticut. The Nelson's is an inland marsh species.

The New York State Breeding Bird Atlas project found salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrows in eight locations in Westchester and the north shore of Long Island (and in about 50 on the south shore, Peconic Bay and Staten Island). For comparison, here's the map for the early 1980s. I could find no comparable data for Connecticut though.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

On the Broadwater Issue, the Long Island Association is an Arrogant Meddler

The annoyance at the Long Island Association's announcement last week that it was giving its conditional support to Broadwater's LNG proposal for Long Island Sound wasn't limited to just environmentalists. One of the association's board members, Richard Kessel, chief executive of the Long Island Power Authority, thought the association's announcement was just slightly premature too, particularly since one of its conditions was that Broadwater provide gas at a discount to the Long Island Power Authority. Here's what Newsday reported today:

Kessel said he was especially rankled by plans for the association to negotiate with Broadwater on the conditions that the LIA board has set for the board's full support.

The first meeting was Tuesday.

Among the LIA's conditions is a long-term contract between Broadwater and LIPA for natural gas at "significantly discounted" prices.

"The LIA is certainly free to say what it wants," Kessel said, "but it should not put itself into a position of negotiating benefits for LIPA; that's LIPA's job."

Someone else made an interesting point to me yesterday about the chutzpah of the Long Island Association. The group's president, Matthew T. Crosson, said last week that that association wants to meet with the Broadwater people:

Crosson said in the association's statement that the group would meet with Broadwater executives to discuss specifics of its conditions. "If we are unable to negotiate those conditions to our satisfaction, the LIA board of directors will reconsider its support of the project," he said.

That's nice that he wants to be involved but on the other hand what makes him think anyone wants his pro-business group negotiating with Broadwater, or that it has any right to negotiate with Broadwater?

As it was expressed to me yesterday, who are they to act as brokers to sell off Long Island Sound?

Long Islanders might be impressed with the Long Island Association, but I'm not. Whatever they might have done or not done in the past, the association ought to pipe down on the Broadwater issue until it knows what it's talking about and has something useful to say. Until then I can only think of it as a arrogant meddler.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

One Opinion: Yes, Connecticut Will Have to Agree to Broadwater's Use of Connecticut's Sound Waters

Leah Schmalz, of Save the Sound, answered the question I asked in my previous post, about Broadwater and the amount of Long Island Sound that would be off-limits to those of us who own it, if the LNG terminal is built.

The question:

I hadn’t thought of this before, but with the Broadwater terminal proposed for a part of the Sound that is in New York waters but very close to the Connecticut border, won’t some of the so-called exclusion zone in the Sound be in Connecticut? If that’s the case, won’t Connecticut have to sign off on the private/corporate use of publicly-owned resources?

The answer:

Yes and they are trying. The state has asserted (through a number of conversations and letters) that in addition to the NY Coastal Consistency Declaration, Broadwater must obtain a separate and distinct Coastal Consistency Declaration from CT. The hard to refute rationale being that the safety/security exclusion zones from the LNG tankers will be in CT waters and as such it has direct jurisdiction.

For the FSRU, CT has say under the CZMA as an affected state and should be included in all discussions over exclusion zones and right-to-use issues on the FSRU-- thus far that role has been quite limited. Should the exclusion zone for that FSRU expand into CT waters due to safety concerns, I would imagine that CT would also fight for direct CZMA jurisdiction over the facility.

[Editor's note: The FSRU is the LNG terminal itself -- FSRU stands for Floating Something-or-other Regassification Unit; I mention it here to show off my expertise in technical jargon]


How Much of Long Island Sound Should We Give to Broadwater?

In Hartford, they’re debating how much of the Sound should be off-limits to boats in the vicinity of the Broadwater LNG terminal. The question, in other words, is how much of this natural resource – Long Island Sound – that we own, should we turn over to Shell and TransCanada for their corporate use.

I hadn’t thought of this before, but with the Broadwater terminal proposed for a part of the Sound that is in New York waters but very close to the Connecticut border, won’t some of the so-called exclusion zone in the Sound be in Connecticut? If that’s the case, won’t Connecticut have to sign off on the private/corporate use of publicly-owned resources? Maybe Leah or Curt, at Connecticut Fund for the Environment, will know the answer.


Lots of Water is Flowing Into Long Island, and it's Carrying Lots of Sewage With It

Not surprisingly, considering that sewers throughout the older suburbs are in terrible shape from years of wear and tear and neglect, and just because they’re old, a lot of sewage is spilling into local brooks and into Long Island Sound because of the heavy rains. (And this doesn't even taken into account the four huge treatment plants that empty into the Sound fro New York City; when it rains, those so-called combined sewage systems dump raw sewage into the Sound by design.)

This story talks about the situation in Greenwich, while this story talks about Westchester County and also raises the (unanswerable) question of what the affects on the Sound will be.

Tony Landi, the soon-to-be-retired head of the department that runs Westchester’s sewage treatment plants, told the reporter that the flow of wastewater into the sewage plants during the storm was two and three times as big as usual. In the past that has sometimes disrupted the sewage treatment process for weeks – washed the sewage-consuming bacteria that are essentialto the process out into the Sound, essentially – but there’s no indication in today’s story that the weekend storm caused any residual treatment problems.

Count me as among the skeptical.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Environmental Advocates Says New York is Violating the Clean Water Act

Environmental Advocates, a group based in Albany, released an interesting and probably important report yesterday that said New York State "is violating the federal Clean Water Act by failing to review the performance of polluters throughout the state."

The problem seems to be that the Department of Environmental Conservation has been so short-staffed, that it made a decision to review only a relatively small number of sewage treatment plants and other facilities that have wastewater discharge permits. From the report:

... more than 1,150 facilities around the state have not undergone the required technical review of their pollution discharges for more than a decade, in clear violation of the federal Clean Water Act. This is approximately 80 percent of the largest and most significant pollution sources in New York, representing tens of billions of gallons of polluted water that’s released every day. Starting in 1992 the DEC began to prioritize which permits it would and would not look at. The agency then made a decision to not review the permits and performance of facilities that were in the bottom 90 percent of those prioritized. Consequently 1,150 polluters have not had their permits reviewed, nor their performance evaluated, in a decade or more....

According to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2002 Water Assessment Data, in New York over 1,200 miles of rivers and streams and 284,000 acres of lakes, ponds and reservoirs are listed as impaired. “Given this fact, it’s amazing that the state would choose to not scrutinize the performance of 1,150 facilities that collectively dump tens of billions of gallons of polluted water into the state’s lakes, rivers and streams every day,” said Sweeney.

Environmental Advocates investigations indicate that even facilities that are under consent orders to improve their performance are allowed to escape scrutiny by the DEC. Facilities that the DEC knows are causing or contributing to violations of state water quality standards also are apparently escaping proper oversight.

Here's EA's press release, and here's the report itself. Newsday wrote about it, here, and cited a DEC spokeswoman:

The DEC is aware of the issue but disagrees with the report's characterization of its permit process as "illegal," agency spokeswoman Maureen Wren said in an e-mail. The report noted the agency is reviewing its procedures and adding more enforcement staff, she said.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Yawn: The Long Island Association Announces Its Conditional Support of Broadwater

The Long Island Association, a pro-business organization, announced yesterday that it would support the Broadwater LNG proposal if the proposal meets certain conditions.

Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Dick Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society had a conniption when they heard the news. They reacted in Newsday as if the Long Island Association was guilty of an act of abject betrayal, and perhaps it was.

My more subdued reaction is: Who cares?

Here’s what the Long Island Association said:

"All environmental, safety and security issues must be resolved to federal and state satisfaction; Long Island must get lower priced gas; environmental, commercial fishing, community benefit, safety and security funds must be set up; payments in lieu of taxes to Riverhead."

As I said, “Who Cares?”

It’s meaningless to say that all environmental, safety and security issues must be resolved to federal and state satisfaction. It is meaningless because of the alternative: Was there any chance that the Long Island Association was going to say, “We support Broadwater no matter what, even if it will damage Long Island Sound and put our lives at risk”?

For the Long Island Association to have been taken seriously, it would have had to say something like this: When the feds and the state finish their environmental reviews, we’ll take a hard look at their conclusions and, if we agree with them, we’ll endorse the proposal.

For another thing, look at the reaction of John Hritcko, Broadwater’s vice president and chief mouthpiece:

"The conditions within LIA's statement of support are already part of Broadwater's plans and we look forward to working with the LIA."

How much more meaningless can you get? The conditions that the Long Island Association is insisting with all its moral force and gravity that Broadwater adhere to are already part of the Broadwater plan.

To the Long Island Association: Next time save yourselves the effort.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Terrapins and Underwater Photos

I didn't know how beautiful diamondback terrapins were until I saw one yesterday, in a tank at SoundWaters.


Which reminds me, there are interesting photos taken under Long Island Sound, organized among habitat types, on this website (from the Long Island Sound Resource Center), which Ralph Lewis and Peter Auster, at UConn, are involved in.

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Good Luck With That: U.S. Attorney in Fishers Island Ferry Case is Off to Help Alberto Gonzales

Remember the case against the Fishers Island Ferry District for dumping raw sewage into the Thames River and Long Island Sound (if you don't, read this and this)? And the case against Operations Management International, the company that runs some of the sewage treatment plants that empty into Long Island Sound (details on that case are here)?

Both are excellent examples of what a prosecutor can accomplish when he or she focuses on environmental issues. The prosecutor was Connecticut's U.S. Attorney, Kevin J. O'Connor, a young, politically-ambitious, and accomplished Republican who is now off to Washington to serve as chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

With any luck, O'Connor will be back fulltime in his New Haven office soon.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

If Your Shellfish Beds Are Contaminated, You Can Blame Bridgeport But You're Most Likely Wrong

I got annoyed when I read this story, in WestportNow, about shellfish beds off Westport, Southport and Fairfield being downgraded. The fact that the waters of Long Island Sound off Cockenoe Island, at the mouth of the Saugatuck River, and elsewhere nearby are more contaminated now than they have been in the recent past is bad enough.

But what really annoyed me is that Alicia Mozian, Westport's conservation director, somehow thinks it's Bridgeport's fault:

The problems with the increase in bacteria could be from the lack of wastewater treatment plant improvements in some communities along Long Island Sound, Mozian said.

Fairfield and Southport’s shellfish areas were also downgraded, she said, so she questions if there is a problem with Bridgeport’s wastewater treatment plant, which could need some upgrades.

Give me a break. The roads and parking lots and goose-infested golf courses of Westport, Southport and Fairfield are as bad as anywhere when it comes to producing contaminated runoff. Sewage treatment plants may or may not be in bad shape still, but they're all capable of disinfecting wastewater, Bridgeport's included. So when you look for a reason why your shellfish beds are no longer always safe, look closer to home, please.

And WestportNow, which otherwise does an admirable job, should have known better than to take Mozian's opinion at face value.


Monday, April 09, 2007

The Thames River is Crammed With Fish

There was another account, this one in Saturday’s Times, of just how important the Thames River is as a striped bass habitat. Back on March 1, I linked to Narragansett Baykeeper John Torgan’s blog, where he reprinted an account of a fisherman who was conducting a mark-recapture study of stripers in the Thames. The fisherman, Al Anderson, estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 striped bass spend the winter in the Thames.

John Waldman, a fisheries biologist at Queens College, was on the river at the same time, with a student, Mike Bednarski. In January Bednarski had found that the school of stripers stretched for five miles. A couple of months later, he and Waldman went back for another look. Waldman wrote:

After idling through the fishing fleet, we ran five miles downriver among ice sheets — spooking two bald eagles off a floe — to test temperatures and salinities in the same reach of river where Bednarski had located the southern end of a great striper school in early January, before the freeze began. The sonar fish finder did not mark any striped bass at this destination, so we headed back to Norwich Harbor to sample the fishing. There, the fish finder showed a solid mass of stripers under the boat, but we caught only one in half an hour.

Nearby, three men were gleefully landing one fish after another. Asked what they were doing right, one said that, because most of the stripers were swimming at a depth of about 20 feet, they were dropping their lures to 17 feet and gently teasing the fish upward.

Waldman goes on to report:

the abundance of striped bass in this stretch of the river was staggering. … The five-mile long body of stripers seen in December had contracted to become a dense aggregation at the head of the estuary. The surface waters were fresh and frigid, carrying ice chunks from the two rivers — the Yantic and Shetucket — that feed the main stem Thames. But beneath this inhospitable layer was a tongue of the sea — 42-degree, full-strength salt water, slightly warmer than what we measured downriver, and phenomenally attractive to a not insignificant portion of the Atlantic coast migratory striped bass stock.

Waldman knows his stuff. He worked for a long time as a biologist for the Hudson River Foundation. Two springs ago, he passed along this culinary tidbit. Saturday’s Times piece, here, is a good read.

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The Dammed Saugatuck

I wonder if anyone is keeping track of all the fish ladders and dam removal projects taking place in the Long Island Sound watershed to help restore the spawning runs of alewives and blueback herring? Bob Miller, of the Danbury News Times, writes here of the Saugatuck River watershed and an interesting collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and the local towns.

The river, which starts near Danbury and flows to the Sound, has 110 dams. It also has a new fish counter on a ladder on one of the lower dams. It counted 22 fish the first day it was in operation.

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The Bayville Submarines

Who knew there was a submarine buried under the beach at Bayville, and another one, maybe, a little further offshore? Newsday writes about a fellow named Adam Grohman who thinks he’s found them.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In a Trailer With Marcel Breuer

[Read 'Modern,' our new modern house blog, here.]

When we went to see David Diao’s show (“Demolished/At Risk”) in Chelsea two years ago, we didn’t know that he had once been a Young Turk of the New York art world, as the Times called him not long ago in a review of a show, “High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967-1975,” at the National Academy Museum. We didn’t even think of him as a middle-aged Turk. We just knew him as an artist we ran into in 2003 at a modern house tour in Rye, and again in 2004 at the New Canaan Modern House Day, and then invited up to see our house a few months later, at which time we learned that in addition to living in the city, he owned a Breuer house in Dutchess County.

There’s a story about David in today’s Times (in what used to be the Westchester section), with no particular news hook but with an interesting short account of his life and with details of his Breuer house and his recent work:

Though Mr. Diao still has a loft in TriBeCa, he also has a house in Salt Point, Dutchess County, designed by Marcel Breuer. A strange union of high modern architecture and pop culture, the house is attached to an Airstream-like trailer. Called a Spartan Mansion, the trailer was manufactured by John Paul Getty, and has a streamlined refinement and attention to detail that isn’t often found in an Airstream. In the house, Breuer echoed the details of the “land yacht,” nautically splicing metal cables on the porch.

“I was not looking to buy a country house,” Mr. Diao said. “I am very much a city person. But when given a chance to own a piece of architecture by one of my own heroes — how could I resist? The place was a wreck, and I spent the better part of the next 10 years bringing it back. I became smitten by the brilliance of the original owner, Sidney Wolfson, on insisting that the trailer be part of the design.”

The house had an impact on Mr. Diao’s art. “Soon stories in and around modern architecture joined those behind modern art and became fodder for my paintings,” Mr. Diao said.

“Endangered Species 2” (2004), a map of modern houses in New Canaan, Conn., has a corresponding key showing those houses that have been demolished and those that are at risk. (The destruction of a Paul Rudolph house in Westport, Conn., in January brings home this sense of loss with immediacy.) And in “Sitting in the Glass House” (2003), Mr. Diao sits and reads a newspaper in Philip Johnson’s famous New Canaan house….

We think of the Glass House with such reverence, and yet David Diao managed to befriend the caretaker and then convince him to let him be photographed sitting inside reading a paper. The piece (it seemed to be a combination photograph and painting) was funny and iconoclastic.

The Breuer house is called the Wolfson Trailer House; here’s the website and here’s a link to a good photo.

Monday morning: It occured to me after I wrote this that one of the more interesting things in Times story was David's assertion that he hadn't seen the painting in the "High Times, Hard Times" show in 37 years. It's one of those facts of creative life that non-painters probably never realize: you paint a picture, somebody buys it or you give it away, and it's gone from your life. Writers of course can always go back and read their books (Jack London said re-reading his own stuff was the antidote to depression -- it was like giving himself a big hug, he said). Painters spend time and effort and creative energy making a picture, and (if they're lucky) it's gone.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Rivers, Fish, Sewers, and the Radio

A few things to look at:

Long Island needs sewers but Long Islanders can’t agree on where to put them and no one wants to pay for them. (Let’s face it, nobody in America wants to pay for any municipal projects. We can’t even clean up alongside our roadways but instead have to get “sponsors” to do it for us. It’s sad.)

Connecticut’s rivers are having problems. The Quinnipiac is too polluted to swim or fish in (although this story asserts that it’s safe for boating; can you imagine a river that’s so polluted it’s unsafe for boating?). And contaminated sediments from a Milford marina won’t be dumped at a popular fishing spot in the Housatonic River; instead they’ll be dumped in Long Island Sound, off New Haven.

This guy Bob Sampson knows about fish, knows the eastern end of the Sound and its tribs, and he can write. Here’s his Norwich Bulletin column.

I’ll be on the radio tomorrow (WSTC/WNLK, 1350 and 1400 AM)) talking about the Sound and promoting my book in an attempt to get my annual royalty check up into the low three figures. The show is called Lunch with Lisa. You can tune in, if you’re so inclined, and call in with a question: 203 845-3044. Or you can listen online later. Details are here on this very colorful website.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Rainy Night at the Only Huge Castle on the Water in Groton

Driving from Westchester County to Groton, Connecticut, yesterday afternoon on I-95 was like driving through the rinse portion of a 90-mile car wash at 50-miles-an-hour. Water was falling and spraying from all directions. At Avery Point, where I was to be part of a symposium sponsored by UConn and the New London Day, the wind made the rain fall almost horizontally. The Avery Point people had arranged a small dinner before the symposium, in Branford House, which was described to me as “the only huge castle on the water” at the Avery Point campus. Apparently it was built by an industrialist named Planter a hundred years or so ago (there was a plaque next to the front door that perhaps explained why a building erected by a fellow named Planter was called Branford House but it was too cold and rainy for me to stop to read it). Branford House was indeed on the water and during dinner we had a terrific view of the clouds that shrouded the eastern end of Long Island Sound.

The symposium was called “Science, Politics and Journalism: Unraveling the Broadwater Controversy,” and it was held in Branford House’s main hall, a long room with tall ceilings, ornate, dark, carved woodwork and an enormous marble fireplace that proved that rich people a century ago didn’t necessarily have more taste than rich people today.

The symposium drew an audience of about 100 people. They listened politely as the four speakers expounded for 15 minutes each, and then asked polite questions. I spoke third, after Judy Benson (who has been covering Broadwater admirably for the Day) and Frank Bohlen, a scientist-professor at UConn, and before Peter Auster, another UConn scientist. For what it’s worth, I made the following points:

1. Science is one of the key issues in trying to figure out what to do about Broadwater but it’s not the only one and it may not be the most important one.

2. We needn’t spend much time lamenting how newspapers need to do a better job because newspapers aren’t going to do a better job. Doing a better job requires more resources, but newspapers all over are contracting and consolidating, so they’re not going to suddenly devote more resources to covering science and environment issues in the Long Island Sound region.

3. That being the case, newspapers taken as a whole have done a pretty good job covering the Broadwater issue – with the key phrase being “taken as a whole.” The New London Day has done a good job, while the others have done a mediocre job – publishing the occasionally first-rate story in between a lot of perfunctory stories. But that’s a problem only if you’re relying on one of the mediocre papers for your information about Broadwater. Nowadays though there’s no need for that. You can easily read all the papers online, and if you do, you realize that, taken as a whole, the coverage has been pretty good.

I hung around when the symposium ended, hoping for the rain to stop for the drive home. After every talk I give there are people who want to ask me questions or give me information that it’s essential that I know. Last night a college student asked for my advice on how to get her articles published. A fellow who apparently wasn’t paying attention during the introduction asked me if I was from Groton because he remembered that his son had once gotten in trouble because a girl named Andersen had bought beer for him when he was under age (I assured him that I wasn’t from Groton and it wasn't my daughter). And a man asked me if during the research for my book I had come across a 1954 law on erosion and sediment control, because if I hadn’t he was sure that I’d find it fascinating. I told him that he no doubt was right.

I was back in the car at 10, the rain still falling, the military-industrial waterfront of Groton bright and gleaming. The Mets-Cardinals game was in the fifth inning and wasn’t over until I reached New Haven, which made the dark wet drive home a lot easier than the drive there. Here’s how the New London Day covered the symposium.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Greenwich Tests the Waters On Its Shellfish Beds a Lot, and Wants People to Know About It

Greenwich is trying to reassure its residents that its shellfish beds are safe by publicizing just how much effort goes into testing the waters. As recently as 1991 it sold 542 permits to town residents. But the number fell to barely 200, where it has stayed since 2001, according to the Greenwich Time, which quotes Shellfish Commission Chairman Roger Bowgen:

"There was a die-off and it took a long time to bring everything back," Bowgen said of efforts to restore oysters and other mollusks to town waters after disease and other problems about a decade ago led to a steep decrease in recreational shellfishermen.

"Typically people, when eating something from the Sound, say it's dirty, but we're trying to show that testing goes on all the time. The water is a lot cleaner than people think and it's really very safe to take clams and eat them. We take special care to make sure this happens."


On Route 17 in New York, Only the Billboards Have Changed

When I complained a couple of weeks ago about the ugliness of parts of Connecticut, I didn’t mean to single Connecticut out. Yesterday we drove to Delaware County, New York, and I can attest that ugliness aplenty along Route 17 too. Interstate exchanges in Orange County are a mess of suburban sprawl. Route 17 in Orange and for most of Sullivan county is still blighted with billboards, although ads for new subdivisions, restaurants and mason supply businesses have replaced those for the Nevele, the Concord, Grossinger’s and Brown’s, which in the 1970s was still being endorsed by Jerry Lewis, a huge caricature of whom adorned every billboard.

But west and north of Liberty, the landscape and the roads are beautiful, with fast rivers, small mountains, and small towns that are pleasant if not exactly thriving. By this time we were almost three hours from home, and from New York City, so it’s impossible to compare it with Connecticut. The only generalization I could make is that the further away from the suburbs you get, the more pleasant the landscape becomes. The blight fades away.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Expect a Broadwater Decision by New York in August

If the key decision on Broadwater is to be made by the New York State Department of State, it looks as if we'll be waiting until August to hear what it is. The department wrote to Broadwater's attorneys last week telling them that if the final impact statement is released in June, the department will need three months to review it and decide if putting a liquefied natural gas terminal in the middle of Long Island Sound is consistent with state policies for use of the coastal zone.

As I noted here, the state has already hinted that it thinks it is not consistent. (Broadwater's law firm, by the way, is LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, a red meat organization if there ever was one.)

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