Thursday, June 17, 2010

Polluted Jamaica Bay Hoped To Be Clean By 2020 Reporting Elise Finch -

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wJamaica Bay in New York is considered the crowned jewel of the city's ecological resources. CBS

Jamaica Bay is a popular boating and fishing area, but it's been plagued by pollution in recent years. Now a new plan is being implemented to improve the water quality.

The bay is often referred to as the crown jewel of New York City's ecological resources. Located at the southwestern tip of Long Island, the bay encompasses more than 25,000 acres of water, marsh, meadowland, beaches, dunes, and forests in Brooklyn and Queens. But concerns over water quality overshadowed the bay's beauty until recently.

"There are four wastewater treatment plants out of our 14 that discharge into Jamaica Bay. Those plants everyday discharge about 45,000 pounds of nitrogen as part of the overall treatment process," said Caswell Holloway, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. "Nitrogen is not harmful to humans, but it is a natural byproduct of the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers produce and the DEP treats everyday.

High nitrogen levels cause massive algae blooms which lower the amount of oxygen in the water and make it dangerous for aquatic life. After six months of negotiations, the city, state, and four environmental groups agreed to a 10 year plan to improve water quality. The first step is rigorous water testing.

At 20 different sites around Jamaica Bay, scientists will take samples to test the water's clarity and to test the levels of things like oxygen, chlorophyll and bacteria.

"We've increased by more than 50 percent the number of sites that we have, that we're testing here in Jamaica Bay," said Holloway.

"We're gonna measure the dissolved oxygen in the water," said DEP Engineering Technician Bernadette Boniecki. "Under three is hypoxic which means it could be detrimental to marine life, usually this time of year its pretty good."

When CBS 2 visited the facility, the oxygen level was almost nine-and-a-half. Inside the floating laboratory, ecologists prepared Petri dishes to test for bacteria.

"This is enterococcus bacteria specifically and it's usually from human waste or industrial waste," said Geneive Hall, a water ecologist.

Added marine biologist Beau Ranheim: "One simple measurement, one single measurement is not going to tell you anything besides just that day, but it's more the pattern over time and the city's been doing it for 100 years, so we have a lot of data built up."

New data is already showing improvement because interim changes at the nearby four wastewater treatment plans has reduced the amount of nitrogen being released into Jamaica Bay by nearly 10 percent. Eventually, the nitrogen release will be cut in half when upgrades are made at those facilities.

"The overall objective is to bring the bay back ecologically," said Holloway. "And this is how you get there."

The total plan to improve water quality in Jamaica Bay will cost the city $115 million by the time it's complete in 2020.