Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mayor commits to Water Quality Improvements in Jamaica Bay

Mayor Bloomberg, the City Department of Environmental Protection, the State Department of Environmental Conservation, and four environmental groups today announced an agreement-in-principle 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—over 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 groups will continue 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.

Commitments from the city include to:

  • Upgrade four sewage treatment plants to drastically reduce nitrogen discharges to the bay, on a schedule running through 2020
  • Spend at least $15 million on marsh restoration over the next five years, which could leverage nearly $30 million in additional federal funding through the Corps of Engineer
  • 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, into the future
  • Improve water quality monitoring in the bay, which may include using new equipment to provide continuous, real-time information on conditions in the bay.

Nitrogen discharges from the sewage treatment plants are the biggest cause of the severe water quality problems in Jamaica Bay. The plants discharge nearly 40,000 pounds of nitrogen into the bay daily, which cause harmful algae blooms that frequently render portions of the bay inhospitable to marine life and unusable for people. There is also mounting evidence that elevated nitrogen levels contribute to the rapid and accelerating loss of the bay’s signature marshlands, which provide not only invaluable wildlife habitat but also shoreline erosion control and a protective flood barrier to the neighborhoods ringing the bay.

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, a portion of Gateway National Recreation Area, Bayswater State Park and nearly a dozen city 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.

We bet opportunities to volunteer abound with these groups:

Learn more about National Resources Defense Council.

Learn more about the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers.

Learn more about the American Littoral Society.

Learn more about NY/NJ Baykeeper.

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