Exploring The Last Green Valley: Long Island Sound an important estuary


Exploring The Last Green Valley: Long Island Sound an important estuary

The Last Green Valley is blessed with several large rivers, smaller streams and many ponds and lakes.

Our waterways provided food and transportation routes for Native Americans, waterpower for 19thand 20th century industries, and today, they provide scenic paddles and excellent fishing.

 The rivers and streams of The Last Green Valley all eventually flow into one of our two main stem rivers — the Quinebaug or Shetucket.

The Quinebaug River converges with the Shetucket in Preston and Norwich, and then flows as the Shetucket River into Norwich Harbor. The Yantic River also flows into Norwich Harbor, and together with the Shetucket, they form the Thames River. The Thames then carries water from all our rivers out the final 15 miles into Long Island Sound in Groton and New London.

Long Island Sound is actually an estuary where fresh and salt water mix. Salt water comes from the ocean and fresh water comes from the rivers that flow into the Sound. Most of the fresh water (90 percent) in Long Island Sound comes from the Connecticut, Housatonic and Thames Rivers, with the Thames representing the third-largest watershed that drains into the Sound.

Estuaries are some of the most productive and important ecosystems on the planet and serve as breeding and nursery areas for many species that spend at least part of their life in the ocean.

More than 1,200 species of invertebrates and 170 fish species have been found in Long Island Sound. Twenty-one species of tropical fish visit seasonally and at least 50 species spawn in the Sound. Dozens of migratory birds live at least part of the year in and around Long Island Sound.

Long Island Sound is a very busy waterway with ferries, ships, barges and boats transporting goods and people to harbors. Commercial and recreational shell fishing bring a harvest of oysters, lobsters and crab from the Sound and anglers seek striped bass, flounder, bluefish, fluke and other fish species.

At its widest point, Long Island Sound is only 21 miles wide but its centerline is about 110 miles long. With approximately 600 miles of coastline, the Sound covers an area of 1,320 square miles with an average depth of 63 feet and maximum depths of 120 feet.

 Upwards of 23 million people reside within a 50-mile radius of Long Island Sound, with the largest metropolitan area being New York City at its western end.

Long Island Sound’s many public uses and opportunities make it a valuable estuary and important natural resource. In 1987, the U.S. Congress designated Long Island Sound as an Estuary of National Significance.

If you’re interested in learning more about Long Island Sound, I highly recommend you check out information provided by the Long Island Sound Study at longislandsoundstudy.net. This website is your information portal for discovering efforts that have been underway for three decades to improve the health of the Sound.

Here is some information from the Long Island Sound Study website:

“Since the federal Clean Water Act became law in 1972, investments in water pollution control programs have led to measurable improvements in the water quality of Long Island Sound. Obvious sources of pollution were controlled through permit programs. Tidal wetlands were protected, wastewater treatment plants improved, and industrial discharges controlled.

“However, to fully restore the health of the Sound, a cooperative effort focusing on the overall ecosystem was needed. As a result, EPA, New York, and Connecticut formed the Long Island Sound Study (LISS) in 1985, a bi-state partnership consisting of federal and state agencies, user groups, concerned organizations, and individuals dedicated to restoring and protecting the Sound. In 1994, the LISS developed a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan to protect and restore Long Island Sound.

“The LISS partners have made significant strides in implementing the plan, giving priority to reducing nutrient (nitrogen) loads, habitat restoration, public involvement and education, and water quality monitoring.”

 In 2015, 30 years after the formation of the Long Island Sound Study partnership, the LISS partners revised the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan and organized it around four primary themes, each with an overall goal:
    • Clean waters and healthy watersheds: Improve water quality by reducing contaminant and nutrient loads from the land and the waters impacting Long Island Sound.
    • Thriving habitats and abundant wildlife: Restore and protect the Sound’s ecological balance in a healthy, productive and resilient state for the benefit of both people and the natural environment.
    • Sustainable and resilient communities: Support vibrant, informed and engaged communities that use, appreciate and help protect Long Island Sound.
    • Sound science and inclusive management: Manage Long Island Sound using sound science and cross-jurisdictional governance that is inclusive, adaptive, innovative and accountable.

The work being done by the Long Island Sound Study speaks to the interconnected nature of our entire region. The actions we take, living and working miles upriver of the Sound, can and do impact our critical estuary resource.

The Long Island Sound Study partners are doing important work to improve the long-term health of our most precious natural resources. I hope you’ll take the time to learn more about their efforts and discover how you, too, can help ensure a healthy future for Long Island Sound.

We live in a beautiful region full of magnificent natural resources. Together let us enjoy it, share it, and pass it on.

Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for 35 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org.

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.


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