If you ask Rich White, Fairfield's director of public works, you'd be hard-pressed to find a smoother government program than the Clean Water Fund. The paperwork isn't overwhelming, the compensation to municipalities is helpful and in the end, the environment is the main beneficiary.
"I can't compare it to other states, but this one is very well-run," he said.
In past years, however, funding has either been pared down or outright eliminated for this Connecticut program. For the next two years, $280 million has been approved for what's been called playing catch-up with the pollution that has since accumulated in the Sound.
The Clean Water fund, which is used for projects that will reduce pollution in Connecticut rivers, lakes and the Sound, has helped rebuild Fairfield's wastewater treatment plant and annually provides funds to investigate the sewer system to see where groundwater might be sneaking in, which would compromise the effectiveness of wastewater treatment.
In a report made for the legislature, the Long Island Sound Assembly comprised of representatives from coastal town spelled out the importance of government support of the Clean Water Fund.
"If we do not tend to these water projects now, as time passes they will only increase in cost," said the report, dated December 2009.
"In recent years the legislature used to fund it pretty regularly but then they fell short of that," said Alicia Mozian, Westport's representative to the Long Island Sound Assembly. "They either minimized or stopped funding it and we began to see some backsliding in our hypoxia levels."
Reduced oxygen in the water, called hypoxia, leads to death of fish, oysters and other wildlife. Experts have been able to find correlations between drops in funding to the Clean Water Fund to rises in hypoxia levels. When funding is available, it provides grants and low-interest loans for towns to upgrade their sewage treatment plants, improve sewers and or construct new ones. By doing all this, contaminants in the Sound that come from inland can eventually be decreased.
White said that Fairfield is in decent shape, but the new round of funding will benefit other municipalities to upgrade their sewage treatment facilities in order to limit the pollution that ends up in the Sound.
"It's a huge issue that impacts not only our quality of life, but also the [reportedly $8.5 billion] Long Island Sound economy and it's not something to be taken lightly," said Juliet Manalan, spokesman for Save the Sound, part of the nonprofit Connecticut Fund for the Environment. "It's something that people tend to focus on in the summertime because they go to the beach, but it's a year-round issue."
The Clean Water Fund was created in 1987 and is administered by the Department of Environmental Protection and Office of the Treasurer. Grants toward municipal projects can pay for up to 20 percent of the total cost, and 20-year loans can be taken out with just 2 percent interest.
"There is no doubt that by supporting these projects, this funding will make a real difference for the future of our state," said Gov. M. Jodi Rell in a press release. She added that amount dedicated to the Clean Water Fund is, "the highest level of funding in recent history."
Manalan and Save the Sound are pleased with the progress, especially after years of inconsistent funding beginning in 2000.
"This keeps our water clean, our seafood healthy and our beaches safe, but because there was that five-year lack of movement, we're playing catch-up," she said. "We're going in the right direction but we're playing catch-up."