City Plans To Cut Nitrogen Waste In Jamaica Bay
Mayor Bloomberg, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and four environmental groups announced a $115 million agreementin principle last week to significantly improve the health of Jamaica Bay through major sewage treatment plant upgrades and investments in marsh restoration.
This announcement follows months of intensive negotiations among the city, state, and environmental groups, represented by the Natural Resources Defense Council as legal counsel, including Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers, American Littoral Society and NY/NJ Baykeeper. The negotiations involved alleged permit violations at four city sewage treatment plants, which currently discharge levels of nitrogen pollution into Jamaica Bay that are among the highest in the world. The announcement represents a milestone in the effort to restore the bay. The groups will continue over the next several months to work with the city and state to finalize the agreement, in a way that ensures long-term implementation of a 10-year water quality improvement plan and can help secure federal funding to back up the city’s efforts. The agreement includes commitments from the city to upgrade four wastewater treatment plants with a dedicated $100 million. New nitrogen control technologies will be installed at the treatment plants located around Jamaica Bay. These investments, made in concert with the $95 million the City already has committed for nitrogen control upgrades, will reduce the nitrogen loads discharged into Jamaica Bay by nearly 50 percent over the next ten years. At least $15 million will also be spent on marsh restoration over the next five years, which could leverage nearly $30 million in additional federal funding through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The city will also resolve a long-running dispute over the city’s Clean Water Act permits by agreeing to new, stricter permit terms that will lock in the treatment plant upgrades, and the resulting water quality improvements. In addition, improvements in water quality
Nitrogen is a naturally-occurring component of all wastewater. Although it is not a pathogen and poses no risk to human beings, high levels of nitrogen can degrade the overall ecology of a waterway. High levels of nitrogen can lead to reduced levels of dissolved oxygen in waterways and excessive algae growth, especially in warm weather months, that frequently render portions of the bay inhospitable to marine life and unusable for people.
Currently, the 240 million gallons of wastewater handled each day by the four wastewater treatment plants around Jamaica Bay result in the discharge of approximately 40,000 pounds of nitrogen each day. The Rockaway peninsula closes off Jamaica Bay and prevents the circulation of oxygenated water, which exacerbates nitrogen impacts in the bay, as compared to surrounding waterways.
DEP’s wastewater treatment plants were not originally designed to remove nitrogen. Upgrades, that were announced last year, will address this issue, which include retrofitting existing equipment, introducing new nitrogen-reducing chemicals to the treatment process, and adding additional aeration tanks. Jamaica Bay has more than 25,000 acres of water, marsh, meadowland, beaches, dunes and forests in Brooklyn and Queens, all accessible by subway. It contains a federal wildlife refuge the size of 10 Central Parks. It provides a nursery for the region’s marine life, including valuable recreational fisheries like summer flounder, and a critical bird habitat area that is visited by nearly 20 percent of North America’s bird species annually. It is also home to various endangered and threatened species – from sea turtles to peregrine falcons. More than a half million New Yorkers live in the Jamaica Bay watershed/sewershed, and the bay is a popular fishing and boating area.
Dan Mundy, Broad Channel resident, longtime environmental activist for the bay, and president of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers says this agreement is an historical step towards the preservation of Jamaica Bay. “The Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers are pleased to support this agreement which will go a long way to assure the future health of the bay. Jamaica Bay is a unique environmental jewel and the largest natural resource of our city,” Mundy said. “The heavy nitrogen loading from these four plants have long been identified as the primary causes contributing to low dissolved oxygen problems, harmful algae blooms and saltwater marsh loss. The upgrades to the wastewater treatment plants that this agreement will require will ensure significant nitrogen loading reductions are achieved at this critical juncture in the future of Jamaica Bay. In addition the funds allocated to the saltwater marsh restoration will help in recreating critical habitat that has been lost.” Don Riepe, director of American Littoral Society, Northeast Chapter, like Mundy, agrees this is a major victory for Jamaica Bay and its future. “This agreement holds great promise to bring cleaner water to Jamaica Bay,” Riepe said. “We are encouraged by our discussions over the last several months and the work we’ve been able to do with the city towards cleaning up serious sources of pollution.”