Nitrogen and phosphorus are naturally occurring elements that are part of our aquatic ecosystem. In moderate amounts, nitrogen and phosphorus support the growth of aquatic plants, which provide food and habitat for aquatic wildlife and smaller organisms in our waters.
Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus cause algae to grow faster than our ecosystems can handle. This algae growth can lead to algal blooms, which harm water quality, reducing or depleting oxygen from our water, leading to impaired food resources and habitats. These large growths can cause fish kills (illness in fish and the death of large numbers of fish).
Long Island Sound is especially vulnerable to nutrient enrichment. As a result of high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, every summer, hypoxia, low levels of oxygen, plagues our waters, causing a “dead zone.” Long Island Sound has been experiencing these episodes of hypoxia every summer, and the conditions have been worsening over the past five decades. These conditions cause fish to scatter and make others susceptible disease; when the oxygen levels are extremely low, fish and immobile shellfish may die.
Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus can also harm humans. These elements contaminate our water and shellfish, and thus can cause illness in humans who come in contact with the water or consumer the tainted shellfish.
SOURCES OF NUTRIENTS POLLUTION
Excessive nitrogen (generally in saltwater) and phosphorus (generally in freshwater) found in our waters come from a variety of sources, including:
In Connecticut, the biggest source of nitrogen and phosphorus is wastewater. Our sewage treatment plants are responsible for treating large quantities of waste; however, often times they do not operate properly or adequately remove enough of the elements before the water is discharged into our waterways.
WHAT WE ARE DOING
CFE/Save the Sound works on issues related to excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in several ways.
Save the Sound attorneys are watchdogs over the implementation of the Long Island Sound Nitrogen Total Maximum Daily Load, particularly during permitting proceedings for New York and Connecticut sewage treatment plants.
CFE attorneys partner with scientists and other organizations to ensure that CTDEEP wastewater discharge permits adequately protect our water from phosphorus and other pollutants. We protect local rivers by participating in public hearings on sewage treatment plant draft permits to ensure that sufficient limitations on phosphorus are imposed.
In 2009, we challenged a number of permits, claiming that the phosphorus limits were too weak and polluting our waters. This resulted in CTDEEP updating and strengthening its Nutrient Reduction Strategy for phosphorus and to change its strategy from an ad-hoc plant-by-plant approach to a statewide phosphorus policy.
Read more on our Legal Docket
Clean Water Fund
Save the Sound advocates for investments in Connecticut’s Clean Water Fund, which fund wastewater treatment and sewer projects in Connecticut. The CWF’s top two priorities are: stopping over two billion gallons of nitrogen-rich raw sewage from flowing into rivers and Long Island Sound each year, and implementing nitrogen upgrades at sewage treatment plants to help restore the Sound’s low-oxygen dead zone. Over the last five years, Save the Sound, in partnership with the Clean Water Investment Coalition, ensured that over $1 billion was reinvested in critical water quality projects.
Read more on our Clean Water Fund page
CFE/Save the Sound also advocates for increased Green Infrastructure, which captures runoff at its source and reduce the movement of nitrogen and phosphorus from landscapes to watercourses.
Read more on our Green Infrastructure page
Save the Sound works with Long Island Sound Study Citizen Advisory Committee partners to ensure the reauthorization and expansion of the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Acts. These bills provide federal guidance and funding for restoration, outreach, and research efforts in and around Long Island.
During the 2012 legislative session, we are supporting a bill that would limit the use of phosphorus fertilizers and add phosphorus clean-up as an eligible category for Clean Water Fund support.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
There are several ways you can help reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus harming our water bodies:
- Clean up after your pet to keep nitrogen out of the water;
- Implement green infrastructure techniques like rain gardens and permeable pavements to help naturally filtrate runoff; and
- Reduce your use of fertilizers.
Read more about what you can do to address nutrient pollution here.