NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s Inner Harbor got a “D-” rating on environmental group Save the Sound’s 2021 Report Card, up from an “F” in 2020 thanks to better seaweed levels. Conversely, the Middle Harbor’s unfavorable seaweed levels caused a drop from “B-” to “C+” despite improved dissolved oxygen levels.
Harbor Watch did the testing for the Inner and Middle Harbors, while the Maritime Aquarium did the testing for the Outer Harbor. The Inner Harbor scored poorly on Chlorophyll a (a measure of amount of phytoplankton in the water) and on dissolved oxygen needed by marine life. The Middle Harbor score poorly on seaweed levels.
Save the Sound, which releases a printed report card every two years according to its Water Quality Director Peter Linderoth, is gathering information on trend lines, and expects to have enough data to report five years of information in its next release. “While we look at year to year variability, there’s so many things that could pop into play,” Linderoth said. “… What I’ve noticed with this type of work, not just the Norwalk, but really anywhere, it could go either way. Next time, it could go back to an F, (or) it could potentially go to a C.”
“The City of Norwalk has been and continues to be a careful and active steward of environmental resources in the Norwalk River and Long Island Sound. Just as in the past, the City will consider the results of all local water quality assessments and continue its dedication to developing and implementing strong initiatives that enhance water quality across all aspects of its operations,” said Chief of Operations and Public Works Vanessa Valadares.
Linderoth said he believes the City has accomplished “a fairly large stormwater reduction” but the Inner Harbor has a “few obvious stressors.” Treated effluent contains nitrogen and it’s released from the wastewater treatment plant into a “very restricted portion of the harbor.”
Addressing that wouldn’t be like turning a “light switch” on or off, and it could be a significant investment to fix, he said.
Furthermore, there’s obviously many impervious surfaces around the harbor, developed land with concrete and asphalt roofs, and “that’s known to have an impact on water quality.” If Norwalk continues to focus on reducing the amount of stormwater entering the Inner Harbor, then the results should improve.
“Also the Norwalk River is a very large river. And it’s going to be bringing pollutants from its entire watershed,” he said. Fertilizers could be coming from outside the city, but people need to be encouraged to use organic options and landscapers need to be educated on how often fertilizing is really necessary. “Usually two applications (a year) are plenty.”
He also said fallen leaves can easily be mowed back into grass and mulched to become a natural fertilizer for the next season.
Bill Lucey, the organization’s Long Island Soundkeeper, said he’s heard the City is “inquiring about forming a stormwater authority which would help a lot of pollution issues by funding more bioswales, rain gardens, etc. to capture polluted runoff. So while they have a ways to go there is some signs of progress.”
“We are at a preliminary stage of looking into whether it would make sense for Norwalk,” Norwalk Chief of Staff Laoise King said.
The Mayor’s Water Quality Committee will discuss the report with the Save the Sound team Thursday evening.
Chairman Joe Schnierlein said he has questions:
- Why are the grades based only on summer months?
- What can the City do to improve the grades?
- There is no indication that the grades could be based on natural causes such as large schools of fish moving in or high-water temperatures.
- The U.S. Geological Survey has been doing water quality monitoring at Perry Avenue over the Norwalk River, Cove Marine, and the Aquarium 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and for most of the year – yet their data was not mentioned. Why would such a rich source of data be ignored?
In addition, he said, “what must be considered is the impact of a lack of flow from the Norwalk River as well as the absence of rain and the heat this summer. There are so many variables that can affect water chemistry it cannot be blamed on the algae.”
He continued, “Save the Sound scientists have stated in the past that they expect clearer water. This is an estuary, and clear water is not productive for shellfish and contain less plankton which feed the shellfish.”
Schnierlein, who was once a high school biology teacher, said he has “a problem with a report card that issues grades after the fact, without any input from ANY ORGANIZATION through the period of time that there is a problem in a certain area, and then what you need to correct it.”
He nonetheless echoed Linderoff on some aspects, though, saying “Water and air temperature, storm drains, water runoff or lack of it, impervious surfaces, sewage treatment plants, fertilizers, and what comes into the harbor from the Sound or down the River, schools of fish all impact what they are looking at.”
Linderoff said Save the Sound is looking forward to Thursday’s discussion, hoping to focus on “how we work together to improve the water quality in the Inner Norwalk Harbor.”