One Water. Shared: Greenwich Within the Long Island Sound Watershed

Written by Myra Klockenbrink

The Sustainability Committee of the Town of Greenwich is launching a weekly series of articles on this World Water Day that we are calling “One Water.”

To celebrate water is to understand where it comes from, where it goes and how to best steward this essential resource.

Water drives our weather, sustains our land and makes life possible in a vast, dynamic and interconnected system that is essentially one resource that we all share with each other and the whole of life. We hope this series will provide readers new insight into this amazing natural system that we are, quite literally, all part of and be inspired to take an active role in conserving this shared natural resource.

Connecticut is the terminus for almost all the Long Island Sound major watersheds. Fifty-eight hundred miles of streams and rivers make their way through the State and “shed” into the Long Island Sound. The Southwest Watershed, part of that system, flows through Greenwich via many streams, brooks and the Byram and Mianus Rivers. Along the way water percolates through the soil deep into the ground water supply. The water on the surface of the land collects in ponds, lakes and reservoirs, and what isn’t stored flows into Long Island Sound. No matter where we live, work or play we are connected to a nearby water body, wetland or shoreline. The health of the entire watershed and of the Sound depends on how we live on the land.

Many large-scale factors affect our water supply. The climate is changing the length of our seasons and warming our waters. We have changed the natural course of our waterways literally bending them to our needs for development. We have built on or paved over vast areas of our watershed creating hard surfaces that rain cannot penetrate. We have installed thousands of acres of lawn displacing native landscapes that can absorb rain.

In this series of articles the Town of Greenwich Sustainability Committee will explore these issues in greater depth and offer a set of tools for conserving water, preventing runoff, reducing pollutants in the water, and increasing the ability of our properties to hold water.

As weather patterns have changed the region experiences more droughts. Our springs begin earlier and our winters begin later. Everyone is familiar with the droughts we have in the spring and summer, but these droughts are extending into the fall and winter. There is less snowfall to insulate the ground and rain that does fall in winter often falls on frozen land that cannot absorb it and that water is lost to runoff. Winter droughts jumpstart summer droughts and the soil becomes too hard to absorb rain from increasingly large storm events and again, our water supply — the water we drink — is lost to runoff. This chronic pattern has become a cycle of insufficient reservoir capacity exacerbated by our ground water not recharging.

Runoff is water that does not percolate into the soil when it rains. Forests, meadows and wetlands are great places for to hold water, but development continues to take over these resources. With more hard surfaces, more parking lots, roads and lawns the volume of water running off the land increases, taking contaminants from the landscape into our waterways.

The EPA estimates that contaminants in stormwater runoff causes over half of the pollution in our waterways. These contaminants include fertilizers, salts, sediment, pet waste, pesticides and other widely used chemicals. They collect, concentrate and flow into fresh water bodies made shallow and warm by drought. Once this fresh water discharges to the Sound, is the perfect medium for toxic algae to flourish, contaminating our beaches and the Long Island Sound.

Suburban lawn-scapes are another real stress on the water supply. Remarkably, we use drinking water to irrigate our lawns. We irrigate too much and too often. Our lawns cannot absorb this much water because their roots are shallow and the soil underneath is compacted. The excess water runs off our lawns and ultimately down our storm drains.

Greenwich uses nearly 15 million gallons of water a day in summer months — the largest per capita usage in the state. Greenwich uses twice the amount of water as Stamford, despite Stamford have twice the number of people. The need has become so great that our water supply will soon be supplemented from adjoining systems; an ecologically poor practice. Greenwich can decrease its demand for water by reducing our irrigation needs and cutting back on the installation of hard surfaces and lawn on our properties.

Water is above us in the atmosphere and below us in the ground, on the land and in our downspouts, and it is all connected. One Water. Shared. Look for the next in this series of articles where we explore the challenges to our water supply more deeply and outline strategies every resident can take to meet them.