Ecosystem Targets and Supporting Indicators

Nitrogen Loading

Attain wastewater treatment facility nitrogen loading at the recommended 2000 Dissolved Oxygen Total Maximum Daily Load allocation level by 2017 and maintain the loading cap. Have all practices and measures installed to attain the allocations for stormwater and nonpoint source inputs from the entire watershed by 2025.

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Progress (to 2017 goal)

The 2017 goal to reduce nitrogen loads discharged into Long Island Sound from wastewater treatment plants has been met.

Progress (to 2025 goal)

Data is not yet available for the second half of the target – reducing nitrogen from nonpoint source and stormwater inputs.

Nitrogen Trade Equalized (TE) Loads Discharged from CT/NY Wastewater Treatment Plants
Connecticut New YorkTotal (TE Pounds/Day)2017 CT/NY Goal
Baseline26,04333,10559,14822,775
199519,56129,56149,12222,775
199621,28728,66249,94922,775
199720,26929,24049,50922,775
199821,71824,26145,97922,775
199921,50823,32444,83222,775
200020,26223,66043,92222,775
200117,10124,34541,44622,775
200215,85523,32639,18122,775
200316,57426,00742,58122,775
200414,34525,62139,96622,775
200515,05526,64941,70422,775
200614,73826,29841,03622,775
200713,49525,73639,23122,775
200813,31127,12840,43922,775
200911,81927,19239,01122,775
20109,91323,79233,70522,775
201111,01422,86433,87822,775
20128,51320,32528,83822,775
20138,44618,70227,14822,775
20148,89915,96224,86122,775
20158,37814,51322,89122,775
20167,17113,22920,40022,775
20177,23312,32419,55722,775
20189,25713,36622,62322,775
20198,84813,37422,22222,775

Status and Trends

The 2000 Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) agreement between EPA and the states of Connecticut and New York called for a 60 percent reduction from the baseline level of 59,000 trade equalized pounds per day of nitrogen. As of 2017, this goal has been met.  In 2019, nitrogen loads decreased by 401 pounds per day from the prior year, but it is still higher than in 2017, the year with the lowest amount.

Through the middle of the last decade, there was a significant trend of year to year declines in the amount of nitrogen discharged from wastewater treatment plants into Long Island Sound as more advanced Biological Nutrient Removal systems came online at the plants. With most of the upgrades accomplished by 2016, nitrogen loads have since fluctuated up and down by relatively small amounts, mainly may due to other factors, such as high precipitation rates decreasing the efficiency of nitrogen removal, and more development increasing amounts of sewage requiring treatment.

Greater than normal amounts of precipitation are believed to be primary causes in Connecticut of increased nitrogen being discharged into the Sound from Connecticut and New York in 2018 and 2019. Heavy rainfall and elevated groundwater levels entering as infiltration and inflow into a wastewater treatment plant through the sewage collection system could fill a wastewater treatment plant’s processing tanks to near capacity or capacity. If that happens, the effectiveness of treatment technologies to break down nitrogen into a harmless gas can be reduced.

Challenges

The second half of the target addressing stormwater and nonpoint source inputs will be more challenging since such inputs are widely dispersed.

An expanded EPA nitrogen strategy for Long Island Sound focuses not only on the nitrogen inputs from wastewater treatment plants, but also on the nonpoint contributions from tributaries and embayments. It also looks at ecological endpoints beyond hypoxia, such as eelgrass acreage, as increased eelgrass coverage is dependent on good water quality. An initial effort to develop nonpoint source tracking was summarized in a 2014 report (see Final Report link, data notes below)  which evaluates existing nonpoint source tracking tools for their applicability to Long Island Sound. This report suggested the adoption of the Chesapeake Bay Assessment and Tracking Tool (CAST) for use in Long Island Sound.  The report also outlines four tasks to be completed to allow CAST to be applied to the various sub-basins of the Long Island Sound watershed. In fiscal year 2019, NEIWPCC is receiving funding to conduct a pilot tracking tool project in Connecticut communities.

How is This Target Measured?

Nitrogen loading from wastewater treatment facilities is reported by the states of Connecticut and New York.

The nitrogen loading reported by Connecticut and New York is called trade-equalized because the amounts are corrected for the impacts of particular wastewater treatment facilities based on their location (see trade equalized nitrogen zones, sidebar).  The information needed for nonpoint nitrogen source controls will be produced by the tracking tools and models currently under development as described under Challenges.

Importance

Nitrogen is a plant nutrient. Large amounts of nitrogen loads into Long Island Sound can stimulate excessive growth of plant plankton and macroalgae in a process called eutrophication.  

When plankton or microorganisms that eat the plankton decay, oxygen is consumed by bacteria and the bottom waters can become “hypoxic,” with less than 3.0 mg/l of oxygen. This can lead to stress or suffocation for slow-moving animals, and cause other animals to scatter. Harmful algal blooms, some of which are toxic to humans, are another potential result of eutrophication.

Nitrogen typically comes from point sources, large fixed sources like wastewater treatment or industrial plants, or non-point sources, smaller diffuse sources like septic systems, stormwater, and agricultural runoff.

Contact

Dr. James Ammerman, Long Island Sound Study [email protected]

Source of Data

Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

DATA NOTES

  • The technical explanation on how the target was selected is found in Appendix B of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan.
  • 2014 Final Report: An Evaluation of Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Measure Tracking Systems for Long Island Sound, prepared for the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission by WaterVision, LLC, 30 pages.Open pdf.

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