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.
“Today marks a new beginning for Jamaica Bay -- an amazing recreational and economic resource for New Yorkers,” said Lawrence Levine, staff attorney for the NRDC. “The city has committed to address the biggest source of pollution that has plagued Jamaica Bay for decades. We look forward to continuing to work with Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Holloway to turn today’s historic commitments into reality.”
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.
Today’s announcement is a critical 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.
Specifically, the agreement-in-principle announced today includes commitments from the city 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 Engineers
- 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 is considered the crown jewel of the city’s ecological resources, with 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 applaud Mayor Bloomberg and the new DEP commissioner Holloway for their good faith effort in finding solutions that work for Jamaica Bay,” said Deborah Mans, Baykeeper and Executive Director of NY/NJ Baykeeper. “Based on very productive negotiations with both the Mayor's office and the DEP Commissioner, we feel confident that we can finalize our preliminary agreement and secure lasting commitments to measures that will improve and save the precious waterways of New York City and its citizens, especially those affected by pollution in 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,” said Dan Mundy of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers. “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.”
“This agreement holds great promise to bring cleaner water to Jamaica Bay,” said Don Riepe, Director of American Littoral Society, Northeast Chapter. “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.”