Long Island Sound Water Quality Upgrades Funded

RYE, New York, September 29, 2008 (ENS) - Grants for improving water quality in Long Island Sound were announced Friday at a gathering of federal and state environmental officials in Westchester County near the shore. The water quality grants were among 35 grants to state and local governments and community groups made to upgrade the Sound's environment under the Long Island Sound Futures Fund.

The $913,000 in grants will be leveraged by $1.4 million raised by the recipients themselves, providing a total of nearly $2.3 million towards conservation in Connecticut and New York.

"These funds will support endeavors that reduce stormwater runoff, restore habitat and tidal flow, develop watershed plans, and create educational programs in order to ensure a protected and preserved Sound for the future," said James Gilmore, director of the Bureau of Marine Resources for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Long Island Sound is an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, the Connecticut River and New York's East river that provides economic and recreational benefits to millions of people, while providing natural habitats to more than 170 species of fish, and dozens of species of migratory birds.

More than eight million people live within its watershed. Connecticut cities on the Sound include Bridgeport, New London, Stamford, Norwalk, and New Haven. New York cities on the Sound include Port Jefferson, New Rochelle and the New York City boroughs of Queens and the Bronx.

But the Sound is polluted. New York City and other municipal sewage systems have long dumped nitrogen, among other pollutants, into the Sound, which contributes to a dead zone. Polluted sediment from harbor, river and waterway dredging has been dumped in four sites in the Sound, although in late 2007 officials said two of them at the eastern end of the Sound will be closed at an unspecified future date.

In an attempt to improve the environment, the Sound Futures Fund was begun in 2005 by the Long Island Sound Study through EPA's Long Island Sound Office and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit group created by the U.S. Congress.

This year's program funded 17 grants in New York and 18 grants in Connecticut. Four grants were awarded for habitat restoration; five grants for planning and stewardship; five for education; three for improving water quality and three for conservation of native fish and bird species.

Thirteen small grants totaling $68,000 were awarded to increase understanding and appreciation of the Long Island Sound through community events and activities.

With these grants, groups will restore 17.45 acres of grassland for birds, beaches and aquatic eelgrass, which benefits fish and water quality.

A project at Sunken Meadow Park will open 111 acres of salt marsh and underwater areas, which currently have restricted natural tidal flow.

An award for Connecticut's Barn Island Wildlife Management Area will be used to help acquire 48 acres of tidal wetlands.

Nassau County will seed two million shellfish to repopulate Hempstead Harbor, once an abundant fishery.

Approximately 300,000 gallons of stormwater will be treated by a green roof at Randall's Island Park in New York City.

The projects will open up 33 river miles for fish passage, and restore 193 acres of critical fish and wildlife habitat, including lakes, underwater grasses, woodlands, meadows, tidal wetlands and park frontage.

Seventy communities and more than 100 municipal officials and community leaders will develop a range of tools to deal with water pollution and to prepare watershed plans for their communities.

"As an active partner in the Long Island Sound Study, Connecticut DEP is very pleased to work with an energetic group of federal, state and local partners to make this program a success, and we are particularly pleased with the work that the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has done again this year with the Long Island Sound Futures Fund projects," said Brian Thompson, director of the Coastal Program at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.

"Our staff really enjoys reviewing the project proposals and taking part in a process that leverages significant environmental dollars for local habitat restoration, education and land use projects that help to preserve and protect Long Island Sound," Thompson said.

Since 2005, the Sound Futures Fund has provided $3.6 million to 117 projects in communities surrounding the Sound.

With a grantee match of more than $10 million, over $14 million in locally-based conservation has been, in part, galvanized by the grant program.

The grant program pools funds from the EPA, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Shell Marine Habitat Program for projects to restore the health and living resources of Long Island Sound.

The Long Island Sound Futures Fund grew out of a partnership that achieves environmental protection through collaboration and shared resources," said Alan Steinberg, U.S. EPA regional administrator for Region 2, which includes New York. "These grants help local experts achieve results that will benefit the Sound and its inhabitants for generations."

The Long Island Sound Study, developed under the EPA's National Estuary Program, is a cooperative effort between the federal agency and the states of Connecticut and New York to protect and restore the Sound and its ecosystem.

Robert Varney, regional administrator for EPA's New England region, which includes Connecticut, said, "EPA's funding for these important projects, along with the support from other organizations, substantially boosts our efforts to target environmental concerns and take action to protect the Sound."

{Photo: A snowy egret and a great egret in the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area, Stonington, Connecticut by Rick Newton}

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