Home Fairfield Budget includes $1 billion for clean water, system upgrades

Budget includes $1 billion for clean water, system upgrades

Long Island Sound
Long Island Sound. Photo courtesy of Save the Sound.

The seaside views of the Long Island Sound are embedded into Connecticut’s culture and tourism industry, but with more than 2 billion gallons of raw sewage pouring into the water each year, the sound is not without its troubles.

As part of his budget proposal for the state’s 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called for $1 billion to bolster efforts to clean up the sound and to protect against future flood damage, with nonprofit advocacy group Save the Sound saying the investment has the potential to create or retain as many as 20,000 jobs.

The biennial budget would allocate $285 million in state grants and $712 million in loans to clean up Connecticut’s lakes, rivers and the Long Island Sound and to provide safe drinking water.

Under the proposal, a portion of the $1 billion would go to the state’s Clean Water Fund, which provides grants of between 20 percent and 50 percent of the cost of projects and subsidized loans for the remainder.

The rest of the funds would go to towns and cities in the form of state aid for drinking water and sewage system upgrades and the construction of barriers and other infrastructure to protect against future storm surges.

“The governor’s commitment to clean water is part of an overall plan to grow the economy and create good jobs in Connecticut,” said Juliet Manalan, press secretary for the Malloy administration. “Reducing pollution in Connecticut waterways and Long Island Sound is certainly important from an environmental perspective — and it protects the more than $5 billion economy driven by aquaculture.”

The funding would help municipalities take on clean water projects they would not otherwise undertake and would help create construction and engineering jobs, Manalan said.

The proposed funding for clean water projects is the highest in 10 years by at least $100 million, said Leah Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound.

Schmalz said the proposal reflects Malloy’s commitment to cleaning the sound and could also help towns and cities meet a 2014 deadline for reducing nitrogen levels by 50 percent over 15 years, with municipalities that fail to comply subject to fines. She said nitrogen levels are particularly high across Fairfield County.

“Everyone is making a last big push,” Schmalz said. “Connecticut has been doing a good job lately but they have to get to the end of the goal.”

Besides reducing nitrogen levels, the Clean Water Fund can also be used for storm damage mitigation projects and for separating sewage and stormwater systems. In older urban areas like Bridgeport, much of the flooding that resulted after Hurricane Sandy was attributed to combined sewage and stormwater systems that were backed up.

Dennis Schain, communications director for the state Department of Energy and Environment Protection, said the increased pool of funding might encourage Bridgeport officials to speed up the city’s sewer upgrades, which are slated to take 10 to 20 years.

However, Schain said, even with a state grant, financing a project of that magnitude would cost taxpayers.

“The funds make it possible to attack it but you can’t necessarily do it overnight,” Schain said. “It takes time but it’s definitely a priority to set that out in order to better protect our waters and the public health.”

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