Jamaica Bay water quality agreements signed

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NEW YORK CITY, NY, June 27, 2011 -- New York environmental agencies have signed two parallel agreements to significantly improve water quality and habitat in Jamaica Bay.

The agreements, signed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), continue several years of joint efforts by these agencies to clean up the bay, with the active participation of a civic and environmental coalition, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Jamaica Bay Eco-Watchers, which were named in one of the legal settlements announced today.

The agreements require DEP to invest in heightened nitrogen treatment systems at four New York City wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the Bay, at an estimated cost of $100 million. DEP will also dedicate $13 million in Environmental Benefit Projects (EBPs) and $2 million to restore marsh island habitat in this nationally prominent ecosystem.

The agreements also require New York City to adhere to a schedule for plant treatment upgrades and provide for the civic and environmental coalition's continued involvement in the cleanup. The agreement between DEC and DEP also will keep on track the multi-year program to improve water quality in Long Island Sound through nitrogen treatment upgrades.

"The signing of this historic agreement will benefit generations of New Yorkers and millions of tourists who want to enjoy one of New York City's hidden gems," said New York City Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway. "And we have not waited for the drafting to be complete to get to work. We are already removing roughly 8,000 pounds more of nitrogen per day than would be the case without this agreement; when it is fully implemented, we will have cut nitrogen discharges from our treatment plants by at least 50%."

Popular for fishing and bird-watching, Jamaica Bay is one of the focus areas of the America's Great Outdoors program, the Obama Administration's initiative to develop a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda.

The Bay is a diverse ecological treasure that supports multiple habitats, including open water, salt marshes, grasslands, coastal woodlands, maritime shrub lands, and brackish and freshwater wetlands. These habitats support nearly 100 fish species, 325 species of birds and many reptile, amphibian and mammal species. Over the past several decades, Jamaica Bay's marsh island habitats have been disintegrating at an accelerated rate.

Excess nutrient nitrogen in salt water systems is a major cause of algae growth and associated low oxygen conditions that can cause fish kills, wetland habitat decay, odors and bio-slimes -- sometimes referred as a nitrogen "dead zone." These conditions often impact both Jamaica Bay and Long Island Sound during warmer weather. Ninety percent of the nitrogen going into the Bay comes from municipal sewage treatment plants.

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