Healthy lawns and a healthy Niantic River
Long Island Sound and Connecticut’s coastal bays and harbors are important natural resources for state residents. Long Island Sound provides feeding, breeding, and nesting areas for a broad diversity of plant and animal life, including many rare, endangered and migratory species. Of the 3.6 million people living in Connecticut, 2.2 million people live in coastal portions of the state.
Coastal Connecticut employs 972,200 people annually, earning a total of over $65.6 billion. The activities that take place on and along the Sound – boating, fishing, tourism, and swimming – contribute an estimated $5.5 billion per year to the regional economy.
Over the last three decades, Connecticut has made a significant commitment to protecting and restoring the Sound. Millions of dollars have been invested in communities throughout the state to address pollution, including nitrogen.
Nitrogen in Long Island Sound comes from a diverse array of sources, including sewage treatment plants, septic systems, atmospheric sources, and fertilizer. Excess nitrogen in the Sound has been linked to hypoxia (low oxygen) and anoxia (no oxygen) in bottom waters during the summer months, which is harmful and even deadly to aquatic animals.
Through the Second Generation Nitrogen Strategy developed by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2016, great strides have been made in reducing nitrogen from sewage treatment plants. However, other sources of nitrogen, including septic systems and atmospheric deposition are difficult to control, and require coordination on state and regional levels.
Research conducted at the University of Connecticut from 2013–2015 evaluated sources of nitrogen to Long Island Sound bays and harbors. In the Niantic River watershed, about 29% of nitrogen comes from fertilizer. Unlike other sources of nitrogen, the amount of fertilizer applied on the land, and especially on lawns, is easy to control. According to turf scientists from the University of Connecticut and other New England universities, mature lawns do not need much, if any, fertilizer. These experts recommend a number of actions that homeowners can adopt to reduce the amount of fertilizer they apply on their lawns, helping them to maintain a satisfactory lawn while reducing the amount of nitrogen from fertilizer that enters Long Island Sound.
These actions include not applying fertilizer if you are satisfied with the appearance of your lawn; reducing the amount of fertilizer applied by one-third to one-half of the amount recommended on the fertilizer bag; applying fertilizer at the right time of the year – before green-up in the spring (around Memorial Day) and around Labor Day when grass is coming out of summer dormancy; and leaving grass clippings on the lawn. Grass clippings break down quickly and will return nitrogen to the lawn, feeding it for free.
This summer, the Niantic River Watershed Committee is asking residents of East Lyme and Waterford to think about how they use lawn fertilizer. Through the Healthy Lawns, Healthy River initiative, funded through the Long Island Sound Futures Fund, volunteers from the Watershed Committee will visit neighborhoods along the Niantic River to ask residents to make a commitment to adopt fertilizer practices that are healthy for their lawns and will sustain a healthy Niantic River and Long Island Sound. To learn more about Healthy Lawns, Healthy River, visit our website.
Judy Rondeau is the Niantic River watershed coordinator and assistant director of the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District. You can contact her at email@example.com.