Green Cities/Blue Waters: connecting urban communities to ecosystems on the agenda

Bridgeport, CT, May 7, 2010—Save the Sound, a program of New Haven-based Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and the Long Island Sound Study, sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, co-hosted the 20th Annual Long Island Sound Citizens Summit today in Connecticut. This year’s Summit focused on the wide-ranging efforts around the Sound and around the country to restore urban waters and bring people back to downtown rivers and harbors.

“Improving our urban rivers and streams that flow into Long Island Sound plays a critical role in our mission to protect Long Island Sound’s water quality,” said Mark Tedesco, director of the EPA Long Island Sound Office and the Long Island Sound Study program. “The initiative of communities to reconnect to restored local waters, even in densely populated areas, is a key component of the larger task of maintaining a healthy Long Island Sound ecosystem.”

Long Island Sound is a well-known vacation destination. The beautiful shoreline, areas of pristine coastal habitat, and charming vistas are preeminently New England. However, the Sound is also home to urban communities with industries and development that have contributed to degradation of local waterways. Now many of these communities are uniting to restore these natural resources.

Keynote speaker Curt Spalding, regional administrator for EPA New England, spoke on the national picture of urban water initiatives. Spalding, who prior to joining the EPA served as executive director of Save the Bay in Providence, said, “Investing in our urban waters will help restore our economic and urban vibrancy. We need to encourage our communities throughout the Sound to take innovative actions to promote solutions to reduce nonpoint source and storm water pollution that harms our coastal and inland waters.”

Congressman Jim Himes, D-4th District, attended a portion of the conference and commented, “As an avid shellfisherman I personally understand how important it is that we keep the Sound clean so we can continue to eat the fish we catch, swim at our neighborhood beaches, and see our local businesses thrive.” “Save the Sound has been a great partner to me already, and I look forward to our continued work together.”

The Citizens Summit also convened three panels of experts with knowledge about restoring urban waters and communities. Surhabi Shah, director of the EPA Urban Water Initiative, moderated the first panel, which highlighted local programs that are promoting citizen involvement as part of urban restoration projects, including the Mill River in Stamford and the Bronx River in New York City.

Larry Levine, staff attorney of the Natural Resources Defense Council, moderated the next panel, which focused on innovative ways to control urban stormwater runoff with infrastructure projects such as installing green roofs at New York City Parks’ offices and installing filters in storm drains in Norwalk Harbor.

Mark Tedesco, director of the EPA Long Island Sound Office, convened an afternoon panel of federal and state officials and leaders from the non-profit and private sectors to provide an overview of how citizens can take action in their local communities to improve urban waterways and the neighborhoods that surround them.

The conference ended with Long Island Sound Study Citizens Advisory Committee co-chairs Nancy Seligson, a Town Council member from Mamaroneck, NY, and Curt Johnson, program director for Connecticut Fund for the Environment, leading a discussion on drafting a series of next steps aimed at promoting Long Island Sound’s urban waterways.

“Simply put, Long Island Sound is an amazing place and we have to ensure it is protected and viable,” said Curt Johnson, program director for Connecticut Fund for the Environment. “A healthy Sound is so important to our quality of life. For a child, clean water means beaches open for swimming; for oystermen it means a toxin-free harvest; for wildlife it is the home that supports an entire ecosystem. Without careful planning and long-term vision, these fundamentals fall apart. Today was all about the interconnectivity between inland and shoreline, because even far inland we what do impacts the shore, and the health of the shore impacts our overall economy and state of wellness.”

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