New York City Will Halve Nitrogen Pollution to Jamaica Bay
NEW YORK, New York, March 2, 2010 (ENS) - An agreement to improve the overall water quality and restore marshlands in New York's Jamaica Bay through new investments worth $115 million was reached Thursday after months of intensive negotiations among the city, state, and environmental groups.

The city will dedicate $100 million to installing new nitrogen control technologies at four wastewater treatment plants located on Jamaica Bay. The upgrades will help cut nitrogen discharges in half over the next 10 years.

Aerial view of Jamaica Bay, New York (Photo by Elrina753)

For the announcement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was joined by Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler, City Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis, as well as City Council Environmental Protection Chair James Gennaro and Major Mike Clancy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"Jamaica Bay is without question one of the most bountiful wildlife habitats in the entire Northeast," said Mayor Bloomberg. "It is important to the people who live in the area for its rich biodiversity, the recreation it offers, and the protection the marshlands provide from flooding. This agreement is an outstanding example of government and citizens' groups working together to meet a major goal of our sweeping PlaNYC agenda: improving the quality of waterways around the city."

As part of the agreement, the State will exempt the City from $45 million in potential penalties for construction delays in nitrogen upgrades at two other wastewater treatment plants and those dollars will be invested in future clean water projects. The City Department of Environmental Protection is now on track to complete all upgrades by 2017.

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, part of Gateway National Recreation Area in Queens, New York (Photo by John)

Nitrogen discharges from the four 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.

In attendance at the announcement were representatives of the four environmental groups that played a central role in forging the agreement - Natural Resources Defense Council Executive Director Peter Lehner, Jamaica Bay Eco-Watchers President Dan Mundy, American Littoral Society Northeast Chapter Director Don Riepe, and NY/NJ Baykeepers Executive Director Debbie Mans.

"Today, New York government and environmentalists have shown we can work together effectively to clean up Jamaica Bay, the crown jewel of the city's natural resources," said Lehner. "This preliminary agreement represents a true green solution. And it packs a one-two punch, not only working to revive a struggling ecosystem, but also restoring an invaluable green space for New Yorkers in our own backyards."

Jamaica Bay is a 31-square-mile water body with a broader watershed of about 142 square miles. The crown jewel of the city's ecological resources, the bay encompasses more than 25,000 acres of water, marsh, meadowland, beaches, dunes and forests in Brooklyn and Queens, all accessible by subway.

More than a half million New Yorkers live in the Jamaica Bay watershed/sewershed, and the bay is a popular fishing and boating area.

Tree swallow in Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (Photo by Arubow4)

The bay 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.

Open water, salt marshes, grasslands, coastal woodlands, maritime shrublands, and brackish and fresh water wetlands support 91 fish species, 325 species of birds, and many reptile, amphibian, and small mammal species.

Jamaica Bay 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 inhabited by endangered and threatened species - from sea turtles to peregrine falcons.

Jamaica Bay has experienced marshland loss due to many factors, including sea level rise, a loss of sediment and fresh water flows and reduced tidal activity from the extension of the Rockaway peninsula. The City's $15 million investment will be spent on saltwater marsh restoration projects in the interior of Jamaica Bay.

"This groundbreaking agreement demonstrates our long-term commitment to improving water quality by investing in cutting-edge technology and ecological restoration of New York City's natural habitats," said Commissioner Holloway.

"This effort will drastically reduce the nitrogen discharges that are a natural by-product of the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers produce every day. And that means more dissolved oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to flourish," Holloway said. "This agreement is a model of what we can achieve when the City, State, NRDC and other environmental stakeholders work together to tackle complex problems."

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