Progress & Problems
An Encouraging History
In many ways Connecticut is geographically disadvantaged when it comes to environmental conditions, yet Connecticut’s residents, businesses and government have made notable progress dealing with many environmental challenges.
Connecticut is the “sink” into which air currents from across the country deposit air pollutants from states to the west and southwest. Though there is still unhealthful air on many summer days, steps taken by residents to reduce their carbon output, such as the installation of photovoltaic electricity generation and switching to more efficient vehicles have, no doubt, contributed to the improved air quality over the last ten years.
Nutrients from sewage treatment plants in New York and Connecticut contribute to hypoxic episodes in Long Island Sound. Government mandated reductions in nitrogen discharges from those plants have coincided with lower dissolved nitrogen and slightly smaller hypoxic zones during the last few years.
The Climate Challenge
Such successes are a testament that Connecticut residents and businesses can improve the environment, even when the root causes lay totally, or partially, outside the State's borders. Many other challenges, with their genesis beyond Connecticut remain. Foremost among them is the climate. The warming of Connecticut’s climate threatens to undo much of the environmental progress of past decades. For example, t he benefit from the millions of dollars that were spent to reduce nutrient discharges to Long Island Sound can be undone by warming waters. Increased precipitation that is expected to accompany Connecticut’s warming climate will increase surface water runoff and overload sewage treatment facilities through infiltration and inflow. Evidence of this was already seen in the data for 2018.
Connecticut’s warming climate is creating compatible loci for invasive insect pests, like the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) and the emerald ash borer ( Agrilus planipennis). These, and others likely to follow, will have negative economic, ecological, and public health impacts. Native animals and plants will diminish as their habitat transforms. This is already evident in the near collapse of Connecticut’s lobster harvest. Foresters predict eventual reduction in the population of iconic New England species like Sugar maples and the Oaks upon which very many forest species depend.
Nearly every environmental indicator in the 2018 Annual Report has a tie to global warming. (These connections in the Annual Report are highlighted by a symbol of a globe in the shape of a thermometer.) Because the global causes of the problem are exogenous, solutions must be also. Connecticut, alone, will not reverse climate change. Therefore Connecticut’s citizens and leaders must think in terms of resiliency through adaptation and mitigation.
Preservation and Conservation
Within Connecticut, many species are approaching “endangered” or “special concern” status. These include eight of the state’s nine bat species and five of the state’s eight resident turtle species. Ruffed Grouse have declined dramatically too. Monitoring and preservation techniques for these and other species are underway. Some Bat hibernacula have been closed to lower man-induced stressors. The state has programs to enhance and expand the diminishing grassland and young forest habitats on which many species depend. These and other preservation efforts are most likely to succeed when conducted on preserved land that can be managed for conservation.
Land conservation programs allow the State to better adapt to its changing climate. Reaching the statutory goal for land preservation will require nearly doubling the preservation rate of the past ten years. A doubling of farmland preservation efforts will also be needed if the state goal for preservation is to be reached by 2050. There is more to these efforts than merely preserving habitats and farming. Forests and open space provide multiple ecological services including sequestering carbon dioxide, controlling floods, reducing erosion, improving water quality and creating recreational opportunities.
An unexpected and major threat to Connecticut’s conservation ethic arose in 2018 when the inclusion of the principle of the “public trust” in the draft State Water Plan, was called into question by some individuals. The principle that the public owns commonly shared resources, like water and air, has been long enshrined in common law and statute in Connecticut. It is the foundational principle of the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act and is a foundational authority for the regulation of those resources for the public good. The Council published Connecticut Residents and the Public Trust in Air, Water, Wildlife and Other Resources in March 2018 to help guide public discussion of the issue. Recognition of the public trust in natural resources has been critical to Connecticut's environmental progress for decades and must remain so. Short term, there is no greater challenge to environmental regulation than the attempt to eliminate the principle that the waters of the State are held in trust for public benefit.