Save the Sound has appealed an order that allows the Great Neck sewage district on Long Island to continue polluting the section of the Long Island Sound between Farifield, Nassau and Westchester counties, the group announced in a press release Thursday.
The consent order "allows Great Neck to dump more nitrogen than it had previously allowed," the release said. "Great Neck’s current nitrogen limit is 238 pounds per day. Over the past year, the Great Neck plant has discharged, on average, 526 pounds per day. Yet the consent order increases the limit for total nitrogen to 653 pounds per day, more than three times what is allowable."
The appeal violates the federal Clean Water Act, the appeal argues. The order allows more nitrogen to be dumped in the Sound than is permitted by state and federal law. The appeal also argues the consent order was issued without the required notice and public hearing.
“We should be moving forward and working to ensure that both Connecticut and New York are going to meet the 2014 nitrogen reduction goals, not sliding backwards,” said Leah Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound. “Connecticut has made great strides in reducing nitrogen discharges by investing in the Clean Water Fund and upgrading our sewer systems. However, upgrades in New York are still lagging behind due to minimal funding and lax enforcement. By relaxing the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District’s nitrogen limit, [the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] is putting its stamp of approval on the continued pollution of the Sound.”
The presence of less than three milligrams per liter of oxygen in water creates a condition know as hypoxia. Water tests conducted in August showed water in the Sound between Westchester and Nassau Counties had less than one milligram per liter of oxygen. The increased nitrogen levels cause fish and other marine life to migrate away from the Sound, according to the release.
"Save the Sound’s appeal asks the judge to vacate the provision of the consent order that allows the backsliding," the release says. "It also asks the judge to declare that NYSDEC cannot modify Great Neck's limits now, or in 2014."
The federal government, along with the New York and Connecticut state governments, set 2014 as the deadline to remove 58.5 percent of the nitrogen the region dumps into the Sound.
"Recently, Connecticut has taken great strides in reducing its nitrogen discharges into the Sound," the release says. "Due to the state’s commitment to the Clean Water Fund, wastewater treatment plant upgrades and other sewer projects have been completed across the state, reducing excess nitrogen and putting residents back to work. While there is still some work to do, if we continue to build the program, Connecticut is scheduled to meet the 2014 TMDL nitrogen reduction deadline."
Researchers have said the 58.5 percent reduction will come close to ending the summertime bouts of hypoxia, which is "the biggest ecological challenge facing Long Island Sound, particularly in the Sound’s western end," according to the release.
“Reducing and eliminating hypoxia is our priority for the foreseeable future,” Schmalz said. “This appeal is our first major action toward that goal.”