In a report prepared for the legislature, the Long Island Sound Assembly spelled out the importance of government support of the Clean Water Fund, which is used for projects that will reduce pollution in rivers, lakes and the Sound.

"If we do not tend to these water projects now, as time passes, they will only increase in cost," said the report. The assembly, comprised of representatives from coastal towns, including Westport, completed the report in December 2009.

In past years, however, funding has either been pared down or outright eliminated. For the next two years, $280 million has been approved for what's been called playing catch up with the pollution that has since accumulated in the Sound.

"In recent years the legislature used to fund it pretty regularly, but then they fell short of that," said Alicia Mozian, Westport's Conservation Department director and a member of the Long Island Sound Assembly. "They either minimized or stopped funding it and we began to see some backsliding in our hypoxia levels."

Reduced oxygen in the water, called hypoxia, can lead to death of fish, oysters and other aquatic species. Experts have been able to find correlations between drops in funding to the Clean Water Fund to rises in hypoxia levels. When funding is available, it filters into grants and low-interest loans for towns to upgrade their sewage treatment plants, improve sewers and/or construct new ones. By doing all this, it's hoped that contaminants in the Sound that come from inland can eventually be decreased.

Two years ago, Westport's wastewater treatment plant was upgraded as part of a multi-million dollar project that was aided by the Clean Water Fund. With the massive project completed, Public Works Director Stephen Edwards said that Westport is in good shape and there are no large-scale projects on the horizon.

"We will not directly benefit from the next round [of funding], but we will support it because it certainly helped us," Edwards said.

The funding is expected to go to other municipalities, such as Bridgeport, that need to upgrade their sewage treatment facilities in order to limit the pollution that ends up in the Sound.

"It's a huge issue that impacts not only our quality of life, but also the [reportedly $8.5 billion] Long Island Sound economy, and it's not something to be taken lightly," said Juliet Manalan, the spokesperson for Save the Sound, part of the nonprofit Connecticut Fund for the Environment. "It's something that people tend to focus on in the summertime because they go to the beach, but it's a year-round issue."

The Clean Water Fund was created in 1987 and is administered by the Department of Environmental Protection and Office of the Treasurer. Grants toward municipal projects can pay for up to 20 percent of the total cost, and 20-year loans can be taken out with just a two percent interest rate.

"There is no doubt that by supporting these projects, this funding will make a real difference for the future of our state," said Gov. M. Jodi Rell in a press release. She added that the amount dedicated to the Clean Water Fund is "the highest level of funding in recent history."

Manalan and Save the Sound are pleased with the progress, especially after years of inconsistent funding beginning in 2000.

"This keeps our water clean, our seafood healthy and our beaches safe, but because there was that five-year lack of movement, we're playing catch up," she said. "We're going in the right direction but we're playing catch up."