By Katie Hoos
Efforts to save the Long Island Sound now have an expanded presence in Westchester.
Save the Sound, a bi-state advocacy organization that works to protect and restore the entire Long Island Sound from Connecticut to New York, opened an office in the Village of Mamaroneck last month and hired a new director whose focus is specifically on the western stretch of the sound.
As part of the larger organization, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Save the Sound has worked to restore natural habitats, clean up beaches and protect coastal and river water since its formation in 1972. The program operated solely out of its office in New Haven, Conn., until its recent expansion into Westchester, which is the sound’s most polluted and contaminated area.
Looking to focus its attention to the western region, Save the Sound hired Tracy Brown, a Sleepy Hollow resident, as the western Long Island Sound director and opened a Mamaroneck office on East Boston Post Road in May.
“The main reason Save the Sound set up a New York office was they realized, if they didn’t prioritize healing the western part of the sound, they’d never get the job done healing the whole sound,” Brown, who formally worked for the Hudson Riverkeeper organization, said. “Westchester is like the sick patient in the emergency room who needs triage.”
According to Brown, the main source of the sound’s bacteria and nitrogen pollution is leakage from sewage treatment facilities and ageing wastewater infrastructure. The western sound’s high population of people and lack of water flow, she said, have made these pollution problems much worse.
“On the end of the sound where you have the most population density, you also have the least water flow,” she said. “You have a little narrow connection to the East River and slow moving water, which has led to this dramatic crisis.”
The crisis Brown is referring to is the region’s reoccurring, widespread hypoxia problem.
Hypoxia, a low-oxygen condition that is caused by pollution, has plagued the western sound region, particularly Westchester coasts, and is growing worse.
According to Save the Sound Executive Director Curt Johnson, the sound’s hypoxia epidemic has caused a low-oxygen dead zone to form every year, devastating the area’s fish populations.
“Come summer, the oxygen level gets so low, often creatures swim away or die,” he said, noting conditions have improved, but are still critical.
With continued hypoxic conditions, the region’s fish supply will diminish and eventually disappear.
Hoping to ultimately reduce the hypoxia and improve the overall quality of Westchester’s beaches, Brown said she plans to use her past experiences with bacteria contamination and clean water advocacy to clean up the sound.
“I really want to expand on the bacteria monitoring movement, track down the source of the pollution and raise awareness on the issue,” she said, adding the Long Island Sound has 173 beaches, making water quality monitoring easy. “If we reduce bacteria at the beaches, that directly benefits the community as well as wildlife, which is the ultimate goal.”
While Save the Sound may have recently established a new home in Westchester, it has already developed several initiatives to combat pollutants over the last year.
Sound Swim Alerts, an email and social media notification system informing residents whether or not it’s safe to swim in local beaches, was launched last year in response to growing numbers of beach day closures.
Last summer, Westchester lost 136 beach days—the number of days closed multiplied by the number of beaches—due to pollution.
Save the Sound also initiated a citizen-based water quality monitoring program in Mamaroneck, which worked with local residents conducting water sampling from the sound. Through this program, two illegal, formally unknown sources of sewage were discovered and Save the Sound worked with the Village of Mamaroneck to get it cleaned up.
“We know people care a lot about the sound and when beaches are closed due to pollution,” Johnson said, adding Brown’s expertise in motivating and engaging the public will benefit the Westchester Sound Shore area.
“For those of us who live on the sound, this is like our Grand Canyon,” he said.
“People really care.”
Save the Sound
566 E. Boston
Post Road, 2nd Floor
Village of Mamaroneck