In a huge victory for environmental advocacy and green activism, four environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reached a legal settlement that guarantees significant improvements to restore and preserve Jamaica Bay. Jamaica Bay has more than 25,000 acres of water, marsh, meadowlands, beaches, dunes and forests, making it an important wildlife refuge encompassing Brooklyn and Queens, but decades of pollution from city sewage treatment plants, and general neglect have caused severe damage to the bay. The Bay currently has some of the highest nitrogen levels in the world.
Nitrogen discharges from sewage treatment plants are the main culprits behind severe water quality problems in Jamaica Bay. The sewage plants discharge about 40,000 pounds of nitrogen daily, causing significant damage to the ecosystem. Algae blooms, for example, make portions of the bay inhospitable to marine life and unusable for people. High nitrogen levels have also caused a rapid loss of the bay’s marshlands, which “provide not only invaluable wildlife habitat, but also shoreline erosion control and a protective flood barrier to the neighborhoods ringing the bay.”
The settlement takes concrete steps to fix these problems. Sewage treatment plants, for example, will be upgraded, significant cutting nitrogen levels by half, while also enforcing limits to pollution. The city and state will also team up with environmental groups to restore the marshlands. Water quality treatment will also take priority, with treatment results provided to environmental groups, and state officials on a consistent basis. These projects will qualify for federal funding.
Jamaica Bay is a gem in the city, largely ignored until now. It is the city’s important wildlife refuge, used by New Yorkers for everything from bird watching and horse riding to a serene escape from the chaos of the city. Others have even dubbed it sacred, even making Jamaica Bay a place of worship. Whatever the case may be, it’s good to see the city, state, and local activists working together to preserve it.