NORWALK — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy was joined by environmental and business leaders at Calf Pasture Beach on Tuesday afternoon to push for a "guaranteed stream of money" to further clean Long Island Sound.
"I'm here today to talk about the importance of passing the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act this summer," Murphy said. "The Long Island Sound Stewardship Act authorizes about $350 million in funding over the next five years to continue to invest in the water quality of the Long Island Sound as well as coastal management."
Murphy described Long Island Sound — with its tourism, maritime and fishing industries and 9 million residents living along its shorelines — as "an economic powerhouse."
The U.S. senator said funding is now subject to the approval of an appropriations bill and the federal government typically allocates $8 million a year.
"We need a lot more in order to make the gains in water quality," Murphy said.
The additional funding, if secured, would go to water-quality improvement and coastal management projects running the gamut from infrastructure work to educational programs, according to Murphy.
Murphy, D-Conn., introduced the Long Island Stewardship Act alongside U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Kirsten Gillabrand, D-N.Y., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Joining Murphy on the rebuilt fishing pier at Calf Pasture Beach were state Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-25, Norwalk Mayor Harry W. Rilling, Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce President Edward J. Musante Jr. and Vice Chairman Marc J. Grenier, Connecticut Sierra Club Vice Chairman Peter R. McKnight, Save the Sound Executive Director Curtis P. Johnson, Soundkeeper Terry Backer and Sally Harold, Director of Migratory Fish Projects at The Nature Conservancy.
Johnson said the additional dollars could open up the Noroton River in Darien to fish migration. Elevated culverts along the river near Interstate 95 now prohibit such movement, he said.
Duff said the money could be used to resume the storm-drain filter program begun in Norwalk.
"The good news is Long Island Sound is probably the cleanest it's been in a generation or two," Duff said.
The bad news is it's nowhere near where it needs to be."
A number of speakers noted the findings of the recent Long Island Sound ecosystem health report card that gave extreme eastern Long Island Sound an A-grade and extreme western Long Island Sound an F-grade.
"It's no mystery why the Sound's water quality tends to drop as you move west. It's population density. More people live here, more roads are paved, more stormwater carries containments o;f every kind into the Sound," said Backer, who is also a state representative. "So we're pretty lucky, I think, to have an advocate like Chris Murphy working for us in the Congress to bring home some federal dollars."
While different entities have assigned different dollar values to the economic value of Long Island Sound, its true value lies in its use, according to Backer.
"Ask those kids over there, playing in the sand and swimming in the water what the value of Long Island Sound is and it's intangible," said Backer, D-121.
Grenier said a number of chamber members rely upon the Sound for their businesses, their families and the general populace.
"When people know that the uses are clean, the water is clean, that the people want to come, they want to support those businesses," Grenier said.
While eastern Long Island Sound is generally cleaner than the western portion, problems also exist there, according to Johnson.
"Milford Harbor and all the way east, right on the board with Rhode Island at the Pawcatuck River, these bays are literally panting for breath every day," Johnson said. "They have a tremendous amount of oxygen during the day, but at night, there's too much nitrogen. It is fueling all kinds of algae growth."
Norwalk scored a C-plus grade in the report card -- better than it would have decades ago but still unacceptable, according to Rilling.
"Years ago, the report card would have been an F. We all remember not even being able to stand in six inches of water and see our feet," Rilling said. "The water is getting cleaner, but we can't stop. We can't be satisfied with a C-plus. We have to get an A."