Healing the Sound's Dead Zone:
Are New York's Sewage Treatment Plants Making the Grade?
Save the Sound has an ambitious goal for the western Long Island Sound—we want it to be a place where marine wildlife can prosper every month of the year. To get there, the Long Island Sound region needs to slash its excess nitrogen—the nutrient that causes hypoxia. In hypoxic waters, dissolved oxygen has dropped below 3.5mg/l. When oxygen is that low, it stresses marine life and forces some animals to flee or suffocate, creating a "dead zone" that plagues the western Sound every summer.
Fifteen years ago, New York, Connecticut, and the federal government decided to start fixing this by reducing nitrogen inputs into the Sound by 58.5% below 1990 levels. A big part of getting to that goal has been upgrading sewage treatment plant technology to remove excess nitrogen.
After more than a decade of investment and work, Save the Sound thinks it is time for the public to hear about the progress that has been made—and just as importantly, what still needs to be done to ensure the region hits its nitrogen removal targets by the 2017 deadline. Our report card does just that.
Making the Grade
Overall, the Sound's sewage treatment plants are making pretty good grades, but a number of them are at risk of slacking off. To see our take on each facility's progress, click on the Google map. For assessments county-by-county, continue reading.
Westchester County: B...but At Risk We'll be watching the collective nitrogen reduction performance at four Westchester County plants closely. The upgrade at the Mamaroneck plant has been completed, while the work at the New Rochelle plant is scheduled to be finished in summer 2014. Depending on how effective those upgrades turn out to be, the county might also need to upgrade its Port Chester plant. The challenge is that the county won't know how much nitrogen it needs to reduce at the Port Chester plant (if any) until January 2015, and it will then have only until the end of 2017 to complete the work. This will require swift design and construction to ensure the county reaches its overall 58.5% reduction.
New York City: B...but At Risk We'll be watching the New York City sewage plants closely too, to be sure they quickly and efficiently finish their upgrades. We will evaluate this performance to assure that together the Phase I upgrades (completed) and the Phase II upgrades (still to come) meet the targets by 2017. The good news is that the Phase II upgrades should be less expensive and have lesser engineering and construction challenges. NYC must continue the momentum until Phase II processes are installed and they have demonstrated that they are reducing nitrogen pollution by at least 58.5% by 2017.
Nassau County: A Virtually all of the upgrades at Nassau County's five sewage treatment plants are complete. This year we will be closely monitoring the performance of these upgraded plants to be sure they are collectively meeting their 58.5% reduction mandate.
Suffolk County: A Virtually all upgrades at Suffolk County's five sewage treatment plants, too, are complete. We'll closely monitor their performance to be sure they are collectively meeting their 58.5% reduction mandate.
What can you do?
- Sign up for our email alerts! We'll let you know when it is time to call your local leaders and state to support sewer infrastructure spending.
- Learn more about nitrogen and hypoxia in Long Island Sound.
- Learn more about other water quality issues impacting the Sound, including bacterial pollution that closes beaches.
- Check out the last page of the report card for more ideas!