SoundVision in Bridgeport
1. Long Island Sound is important to the region’s economy, which means either a) that Long Island Sound is important to the region’s economy or b) that the economy is perceived as being such an important issue to politicians that they can’t talk about the environment without putting it in the context of the economy. Either is fine, of course, as long as whenever the economy improves they keep talking about the environment.
2. When it rains, as it did in buckets over the weekend and for a good part of yesterday, it is bad for the Sound. Really bad.
Not surprisingly, the two are connected (as is everything, really). One of the speakers at yesterday’s event, which was at Captain’s Cove Seaport, mentioned that if the sewage infrastructure of the communities along the Sound was upgraded, repaired, replaced, etc., it would create 6,000 new jobs.
Some of those 6,000 jobs would be for fixing (or, rather, eliminating) combined sewer overflows, or CSO’s -- old sewers that are designed to carry sewage to treatment plants during dry weather but to bypass the treatment plants and empty directly into local waterways when it rains, so as not to flood the plants.
CSO’s are one of the reasons that heavy rain is really bad for the Sound. There was a heavyweight list of knowledgeable pols at the event -- Senator Richard Blumenthal (that's him greeting Soundkeeper Terry Backer, in the photo), Attorney General George Jepsen, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, State Representative Andres Ayala -- but none of them mentioned that Bridgeport’s sewer system is a CSO system. When it rains, Bridgeport’s sewage empties directly, untreated, into local waterways. And certainly nobody who stepped to the microphone mentioned that one of the overflow pipes happened to be discharging raw sewage into the harbor just then, within sight of Captain’s Cove.
Bridgeport of course is not the only Connecticut city with combined sewers, and combined sewers are not the only source of seriously polluted water into the Sound (regular stormwater washing off the streets is bad too). But CSO’s are one of the main reasons why beaches and shellfish beds on the Sound are shut down after a rainstorm.
David Carey, the director of the bureau of aquaculture in Connecticut’s Department of Agriculture, pointed out yesterday that 45 oyster companies in Connecticut operate 110 oyster boats and harvest an estimated 300,000 bushels of oysters a year. Because of the rain and the contaminated water it carries into the Sound, I’d guess that none of them were working yesterday (read this, for example).
And more than one speaker said that Long Island Sound’s economic contribution to the region is $8 billion a year. A good part of that is money spent by people going to the beach. It’s safe to say that it will be days before the water is safe enough for the beaches to reopen.
SoundVision was put together by the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Long Island Sound Study and is being directed by Save the Sound (for whom I have been covering the events as a blogger and on Twitter). One of the goals of SoundVision is to re-energize the people of Connecticut and New York -- including government officials -- so that the Sound cleanup stays on track.
You can see the importance of that if you look at the effort merely to solve the CSO problem in Bridgeport -- which is just one part of a much bigger, much more comprehensive effort. Here’s an excerpt from the Long Island Sound Study’s Sound Update newsletter of fall 2010:
Full separation of [Bridgeport’s] stormwater and wastewater systems is projected to cost $560 million and take decades. The city has been making progress, though, and has already completed seven projects to achieve this goal with a total expenditure of $50 million. The next project scheduled will achieve separation in the Downtown, eastern portion of the South End, and northern portion of Black Rock. This project will cost $25 million, is projected to be completed in 2017, and will solve most ﬂooding and CSO problems with a solution that (after construction) will be below ground and quite intensive.
Here’s what that means: one task (separating Bridgeport’s CSO’s) will cost $560 million. The work has started and after six more years, $485 million worth of work, or 87 percent of the task, will remain undone.
To me, that’s daunting. Let’s hope SoundVision can keep people focused for that long.