Legislation that would continue funding the removal of nitrogen from the...

Legislation that would continue funding the removal of nitrogen from the Long Island Sound and shoring up its coast has been introduced in Congress. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Legislation to continue funding water quality and coastal habitat projects in the Long Island Sound has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate.

The Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act would provide $65 million a year through 2028, congressional staffers said.

Previous funding is set to expire this year. Money in the new bill would go toward cleanup, water quality, shoreline preservation and other environmental and conservation needs of the Sound, according to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office.

Similar legislation has failed to pass Congress before, in 2016 and 2017. It was included in the America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.

The bill was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday by Gillibrand and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Connecticut senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, all Democrats.

Rep. Nick LaLota (R-Amityville) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) introduced a companion bill in the U.S. House on Thursday, according to LaLota's spokesman, Will Kiley.

Long Island Sound is the second-largest estuary on the East Coast and one of the most biologically diverse. But 23 million people live within 50 miles of its shores, and its water quality suffers from sewage releases and fertilizer runoff from lawns and farms. That significantly raises nitrogen levels in the water, causing harmful algal blooms and dead zones, which kill marine animals and plants.

The Sound’s coastal habitats have been degraded by sea level rise, heavy storms and loss of coastal wetlands.

Legislation that provides federal funding for cleaning up the Sound dates to 1990, and in 2006 the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act included money to restore the coastal habitat and revitalize its wildlife, coastal wetlands and plant life.

According to Gillibrand’s office, projects funded through the legislation in recent years have helped reduce sewage treatment plants’ release of nitrogen into the Sound by 70% and reduced hypoxic conditions (low oxygen) by 58% compared with the 1990s. The Act also has funded the restoration of more than 2,000 acres of coastal habitat.

Projects have included an effort to restore eel grass, a marine plant that provides important habitat to fish, improves water quality and sequesters carbon; removal of dams that block the passage of migratory fish; and water quality monitoring, among other initiatives.

Local ecologists are eager to see the legislation reauthorized.

“Everyone realizes it is a good investment to support a healthier Sound through cutting edge science, restoring native habitats, opening up rivers to migrating fish, tackling pollution and monitoring the health of the water," Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey, a fish and wildlife biologist, said in an email.

“The public wants clean water to fish in, swim through and sail across and the investments of this Act have done more to turn the tide than any other program by bringing people together who care about the Sound.”

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