WESTPORT—In recognition of her crusade to improve water quality and environmental conditions, Town Conservation Director Alicia Mozian received an award from a Washington, D.C.-based charity.
“To be recognized for a career’s worth of work felt gratifying and empowering,” she said.
The Environmental Law Institute gives the National Wetlands Community Leader Award to someone who has contributed significantly to protecting wetlands or initiated the passage of wetland legislation.
Mozian was chosen by a committee of wetlands experts representative of conservation and business communities at all levels of government.
“I was surprised and humbled and very grateful,” the 57-year-old said. “But I really don’t feel like I do this work alone. It takes all the volunteers that I’ve worked with to make these kind of improvements in water quality happen.”
In over 30 years as a town employee, Mozian has dedicated her professional career to environmental sustainability in Westport, along with countless hours as the leader of the Sasco Brook Pollution Abatement Committee, a position she has held since 1991. The committee was formed to address the 10-square-mile watershed because poor water quality conditions forced the closure of shellfish beds.
Mozian led the effort to conduct constant water-quality testing to track the sources of pollution that emanated from septic systems, excess fertilizers and pesticides, and fecal waste from dogs and geese, along with a large contribution of waste from the Fairfield County Hunt Club, a club with a robust equestrian program.
After Mozian’s group alerted the country club about the pollutants, the Hunt Club installed a new septic system.
“The Hunt Club put in hundreds of thousands of dollars on septic for their horse barns,” Mozian said.
The Orange resident also led a door-to-door campaign in Westport seeking to educate homeowners in the watershed area about curbing the use of pesticides and fertilizers and on how to better maintain their septic systems.
The work paid off.
“By early 2000s we saw results,” she said. On the state list of impaired waterways, Sasco Brook has been upgraded to allow fishing and the state Bureau of Aquaculture is soon expected to allow shell fishing.
Mozian graduated from Cheshire High School and went on earn a degree in environmental studies from Nasson College in Springvale, Maine. After graduation, she moved to Utah and Colorado, working as a nature guide. In 1985, she moved back to Connecticut and started working for the town of Westport in January 1986.
Over 31 years, Mozian has been a planning aide, a conservation analyst, a zoning inspector and an assistant planner, taking over as conservation director in 2000.
She also serves on a number of boards, including for the Southwest Conservation District, the Aquarion Water Company Citizen Advisory Board and the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Wetland Commissions.
In 1995, she got a master’s degree in resource management and administration from Antioch University New England in Keene, N.H. To get her degree, Mozian took a pay cut from the town, working Monday through Thursday and then hopping in the car to drive up to New Hampshire to take classes on Friday and over the weekend.
Although studying in New Hampshire, Mozian still focused her thesis on Westport. As part of her project, she enrolled the town in the community rating system of the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides affordable insurance to homeowners and encourages adopting floodplain management regulations.
Mozian’s narrow focus on improving Westport’s waterways led to her nomination for a National Wetlands Award.
Carol Donzella, a member of the Sasco Brook Pollution Abatement Committee, recommended Mozian to the Environmental Law Institute, which selected five people for the award. In May, Mozian shared the stage with a naturalist from Maryland, a researcher in Louisiana, a government administrator in New Hampshire and an educator in Florida.
Mozian, who snagged the Wetlands Community Leader award, said she is grateful for all those who have worked together with her — both volunteers and full-time staff — to improve Westport.
“I have a great staff and they are part of the reason I have been successful at my job,” Mozian said.