The Status of Jamaica Bay
A year after creating the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a status report charting the improvements made to the city’s wastewater treatment and disposal and the long term goals of the plan.
However, the Jamaica Bay Advisory Committee, which was created to assist DEP with the creation of a Jamaica Bay Plan, has sharply criticized the DEP’s implementation of the 2007 Jamaica Bay Plan and its outline for future conservation of the bay.
Created to combat the depletion of salt-water marshes and the disappearing marine life in Jamaica Bay, the Watershed Protection Plan addresses concerns about wastewater runoff and other pollutants that may be having a negative effect on the ecology of the nature reserve.
Though many environmentalist groups have suggested that it is the high level of nitrogen in Jamaica Bay’s water that is causing the changes, the DEP has not officially acknowledged that this is the cause of the marsh loss. They have, however, committed to counteracting the bay’s nitrogen levels through a steady introduction of carbon into the water, as well as reducing the combined sewer overflow that is discharged in the bay, which is seen as a leading source of nitrogen.
This involves the expansion and creation of several new water treatment and storage facilities throughout Southeast Queens and improvements in the DEP’s sewer cleaning program, steps that will prevent excess rain and wastewater from running directly into the bay during a storm.
The plan calls for the cleaning of the existing water by introducing plant and animal life like kelp and mussels that would naturally filter the bay’s waters. The DEP’s plan also calls for a continued study into the causes of the marsh depletion, which has included three scientific symposiums in the last twelve months.
Though the majority of these plans have been given full or partial funding at this time, they are not fully scheduled. In the last year, the DEP has created an additional CSO tank and installed three new boat pumping stations along the bay, as well as laid the groundwork for larger changes.
Some environmentalists have criticized DEP’s plan as not immediate enough to save the marshlands. With their depletion increasing more rapidly with each year, there is a legitimate fear that they will vanish completely by 2024 unless quick action is taken. In a letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the Jamaica Bay Advisory Committee expressed their disappointment with the plan’s progress and their recommendations to the DEP.
“At this early stage, the Committee was looking less for progress on ‘in the water’ actions and more for progress in finalizing the building blocks for rapid actions and more for progress in finalizing the building blocks for rapid action further down the line,” reads the letter. “The October 2007 Plan still lacks the goals and implementation process required by the law and required, by definition, of any plan.”
The letter continues to say that the 2008 update of the plan does not correct many of the advisory committee’s issues with the initial plan.
“As things now stand, there are no plan goals to achieve, no monitoring program by which to determine whether such goals, if they existed, were being achieved, and no project related construction or performance milestones that could be revised to improve success in achieving the plan goals (if they existed),” the letter continued.
Though the advisory committee remains critical, DEP will continue with their work to rehabilitate Jamaica Bay. Many of the programs, specifically the sewer overflow and introduction of plant and animal life, are expected to be underway within two years.
By Jeffrey Harmatz