Press Room

Testimony: Hearing on Long Island Sound Water Quality

Written Testimony of Amanda Pachomski, Long Island Bird Conservation Program Manager, Audubon New York

Written Testimony of Amanda Pachomski
Long Island Bird Conservation Program Manager, Audubon NY
For the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee
and Assembly Long Island Sound Taskforce
Hearing on Long Island Sound Water Quality

August 27, 2018

Assemblymember Englebright and Assemblymember D’Urso, thank you for granting Audubon New York the opportunity to offer testimony on the importance of protecting and enhancing the Long Island Sound’s (“the Sound”) water quality. I am Amanda Pachomski, the Long Island Bird Conservation Program Manager for Audubon New York.

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need – today and tomorrow. As a leading state program, Audubon New York works with a network of 50,000 members, hundreds of volunteers, 27 local Audubon Chapters, the Audubon Connecticut state office, and dozens of other partners to protect and restore New York State’s bird populations. Together with our network and partners, Audubon achieves its mission to protect birds and their habitats through science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation programs. At its best, Audubon’s network unites to tackle big challenges facing birds that cannot be solved by any single part of the network alone – like protecting the Sound for birds and people.

On Long Island, we work closely with our local Audubon Chapters to protect our priority coastal and marine bird species through our Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center and Long Island Bird Conservation Program. We focus on protecting beach-nesting birds through education and stewardship, and also work with many partners and all levels of government to address threats to the coastal habitats by advocating for habitat management and policies that positively impact birds, people, and the environment.  

Unfortunately, water quality impairments in the Sound continue to threaten our priority species and their habitats. The Sound is a globally significant ecosystem providing critical habitat for an extraordinary array of birds, fish, and other wildlife and is an important driver of the regional economy. The quality of its waters and marine environments impact more Americans than any other estuary in the United States.

Long Island Sound and the birds and wildlife that depend on it are an ecological treasures that deserve our protection, and Audubon will continue to be part of the effort to seek solutions to the challenges the Sound faces from water quality issues.

Long Island Sound and Its Importance to Migratory Birds

America’s coastal habitat is critically important to the survival of birds. Protecting and restoring coastal habitat is one of the five conservation strategies of Audubon’s 2016-2020 Strategic Plan: Extending our Conservation Reach Together. We focus on the most threatened and iconic bird species that rely on coastal habitats—estuaries, tidal wetlands, islands, beaches, and the marine environment—throughout the hemisphere and work to strengthen their populations while preserving the places they need to survive.

The Sound is a globally significant ecosystem for birds, fish, and other wildlife. It is a 1,320 square mile estuary of the Atlantic Ocean and borders 600 miles of the New York and Connecticut coastlines. The Sound supports 54 Important Bird Areas (“IBAs”), and fourteen of those IBAs are identified as ‘global,’ meaning they support bird species of international conservation concern and/or birds in numbers that are significant at a global level.

The Sound is also home to one of the most important tern nesting sites on earth, Great Gull Island; with more than 10,000 pairs of Common Terns and approximately 2,000 pairs of the federally endangered Roseate Tern. The Sound supports over 1,200 species of invertebrates, 170 species of fish, and dozens of species of migratory birds, including the Bald Eagle, Least Tern, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Osprey, and the federally threatened Piping Plover and Red Knot.

Issues Affecting Long Island Sound Water Quality and Coastal Birds

With more than 23 million people living within 50 miles of its shores, the Sound has been threatened by unprecedented pollution, habitat loss, and ecosystem disruption. Fortunately, New York State and its partners – including the State of Connecticut, the federal government and its agencies, local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and concerned citizens – have made restoring the Sound a priority. This comprehensive effort has resulted in measurable improvements to the Sound’s health: water quality has improved, habitat has been restored, and open spaces have been protected. Notable accomplishments include:

  • As of 2015, both Connecticut and New York have attained the goal of reducing nitrogen by 40 million pounds annually.
  • Over 1,625 acres of habitat in New York and Connecticut were restored from 1998 to 2015.
  • 317 miles of migratory corridors in rivers for fish passage have been opened up.
  • Millions of people have been engaged and educated about the importance of the Sound for wildlife, the local economy, and public health.
  • Menhaden are returning, and humpback whales and dolphins have been seen in the Sound in recent years.
  • Birds that were once rare on the Sound, including Northern Gannets, are becoming regular visitors. Vast flocks of Brant, Long-tailed Ducks, and other waterfowl winter in the Sound. Tens of thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers and other migratory shorebirds stop to rest and feed along the Sound’s shores during spring and fall migration. Osprey have recovered from the brink of extirpation to hundreds of pairs. The numbers of Piping Plover and Bald Eagles nesting along the Sound have increased.

Yet, there is still work to be done. The health of the Sound continues to be threatened by many factors, including climate change, rising sea levels, pressure from development, user conflicts, invasive species, and issues associated with water quality like acidification, nitrogen loading, toxic algae blooms, pathogens, and other contaminants. Each of these issues significantly impacts water quality and has direct and indirect effects on the Sounds’ coastal bird species. In order to continue to make strides forward in restoring the Sound, we ask the Legislature to:

Address Nitrogen and Other Non-Point Source Pollution. Nitrogen pollution is one of the Sound’s most pressing environmental challenges. Polluted runoff contaminates water with nitrogen and phosphorus, and can lead to eutrophication, hypoxia, toxic algae blooms, and increased susceptibility to ocean acidification. Each of these issues has significant adverse impacts on the fisheries of New York State’s coastal waters, resulting in fish kills and population reductions due to food scarcity. These reductions in turn impact the availability of food for coastal birds and other wildlife, causing significant disruptions throughout the food web. Without healthy and robust fisheries, New York State will experience a decline in biodiversity and lose the critical progress it has made in restoring many of the species that inhabit the Sound.

New York State is currently on target to meet its nitrogen reduction targets for 2017, but the State must continue to take action in order to continue to meet Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) reduction goals. Currently, the TMDL allocations for nitrogen from on-site wastewater treatment systems, residential fertilizer applications, and stormwater runoff have remained level or increased, and need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive solution to reduce nitrogen loading. To address these issues, we encourage the Legislature to continue to provide funding for nitrogen reduction through the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, explore additional options for nitrogen mitigation and abatement through the Long Island Nitrogen Reduction Plan, and pass A.10276 (Englebright) / S.8170 (Hannon), which would ban the use of certain concentrations of nitrogen fertilizer in residential and commercial applications in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Improve and Upgrade Clean Water Infrastructure. Municipalities in the Sound’s watershed have some of the oldest water infrastructure in the state. Aging water facilities are a major contributor to nitrogen pollution and contribute to the problems such as hypoxia and toxic algae blooms. However, many municipalities are constrained by the availability of financial resources, which makes funding from the Clean Water Bond Act of 2017 and the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund critically important. These financial tools allow municipalities to leverage their own funds with state and federal dollars in order to address critical clean water infrastructure needs by replacing aging infrastructure and denitrifying wastewater treatment systems. We ask the Legislature to continue their commitment to providing funding for clean water infrastructure and maintain funding for the Clean Water Bond Act of 2017 and the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund in their SFY 2019-20 One House Budget proposals.

Support Watershed and Wetlands Protection and Restoration. Watersheds and wetlands play an important role in improving and maintaining health water quality while providing valuable breeding and stopover habitat for coastal birds, as well as nurseries and refuges for other wildlife. Establishing and protecting riparian buffers, estuaries, and marshes all provide natural hydrologic and ecological functions that reduce nutrient loading and coastal erosion. Additionally, the wetlands along our coastlines act as a natural storm defense by absorbing water and buffering waves during extreme weather events. Despite state and federal efforts, 48% of the tidal wetlands in New York State have been lost, and that percentage continues to decline.[19] We ask that the Legislature continue to identify and provide funding for wetland restoration and natural solutions to increase coastal resiliency, and support the Department of Environmental Conservation’s efforts to identify and map coastal erosion in New York State.

***

Meeting the demand for environmental improvements and protecting bird species from further decline will take creativity and a commitment from all levels of government. We must act now to make sure that water quality issues are addressed so that birds continue to be a part of the Sound's natural heritage and our coastal communities remain resilient and healthy. Audubon New York will continue to work with our Long Island Sound partners to improve water quality in the Sound.

Thank you again for allowing me to testify today, and should you need any additional information, please contact:

Amanda Pachomski
Long Island Bird Conservation Program Manager
Audubon New York
(516) 922-3200
apachomski@audubon.org

-or-

Erin McGrath
Policy Manager
Audubon New York
518-869-9731
emcgrath@audubon.org.