Washington — On the day a report disclosed Connecticut’s beaches as among the dirtiest in the nation, a group of advocates for Long Island Sound traveled to Washington to ask for help.

Curtis Johnson, senior attorney for the New Haven-based Connecticut Fund for the Environment, was part of the group that met with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation Wednesday.

Johnson’s pitch: Please increase federal funding for Long Island Sound cleanup.

The Sound is a recreational mecca for hundreds of thousands of people. But Johnson said preserving the estuary is also a pocketbook issue.

“It’s a huge economic engine,” he said, one that brings the state billions of dollars in fees, taxes and commerce.

But the Sound and its beaches have long been threatened by pollution.

On Wednesday, a study released by the Natural Resources Defense Council ranked Connecticut 26 of 30 states in beach water quality.

The NRDC determined that the number of beach closures in the state jumped from 143 days in 2010 to 538 days in 2011.

Connecticut has 73 public beaches along the Long Island Sound coastline. Beaches that most often exceeded the state’s maximum bacterial standard and how often in water tests they failed to meet that standard were:

  • Green Harbor Beach in New London County (52 percent)
  • Seabluff Beach in New Haven County (30 percent )
  • Town Beach (Clinton) in Middlesex County (28 percent)
  • Short Beach in Fairfield County (27 percent)
  • Esker Point Beach in New London County (25 percent)
  • Branford Point Beach (25 percent)
  • Clark Avenue Beach in New Haven County, (22 percent)
  • White Sands Beach in New London County (20 percent)

The NRDC said last year’s heavy rains — and the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene — pushed debris and bacteria-laden runoff into the Sound and onto its beaches.

But Connecticut’s beaches have struggled with water quality problems for decades.

Sandy Breslin of Audubon Connecticut was also part of the group lobbying Wednesday.

President Obama has proposed $2.9 million in cleanup money for the Sound this year. But Breslin said that at least $7 million is needed.

“The Sound affects the lives of all of the people of Connecticut,” she said. “This is very critical funding,” she said, noting that the federal money is used to “leverage” private money and state funding.

The group of advocates, which included University of Connecticut Marine Science professor James O’Donnell, pointed out that Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes receive much more cleanup money.

“Seven million dollars is not much,” O’Donnell said.

The Sound’s advocates are also pushing for coastal restoration funds and other money that is threatened in this Congress.

But budget fights and gridlock will make it much tougher this year for members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation to secure money for the Sound.

“It’s a challenge, and we’re just going to be persistent,” Breslin said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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