The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced at the end of 2014 the completion of a nearly $83 million upgrade to the Jamaica Wastewater Treatment Plant, which will significantly decrease the amount of nitrogen discharged from the plant into Jamaica Bay.
Nitrogen — which is naturally occurring in food and is thus present in wastewater when it enters treatment plants — does not pose a threat to human health. Therefore, water treatment plants were not originally designed to remove it from the treated water.
But high levels of the element can degrade the overall ecology of a body of water by reducing oxygen levels and promoting excessive algae growth, particularly in warmer weather.
With the new updates, the Jamaica Wastewater Treatment Plant will discharge approximately 6,500 fewer pounds of nitrogen into Jamaica Bay every day, or nearly 2.5 million pounds each year.
Instead, the nitrogen present in the wastewater will be converted into inert nitrogen gas that will then be harmlessly released into the atmosphere.
“Jamaica Bay is one of the city’s most diverse natural resources and protecting it is a top priority,” DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd said. “The newly installed nitrogen reduction technology at the Jamaica Plant is part of our commitment to improving water quality, protecting the bay as a premier wildlife refuge, and continuing the critically important work to bring back a healthier bay for generations to come.”
Jamaica Bay is a 31-square-mile body of water surrounded by Queens, Brooklyn and Nassau County. With multiple types of habitats, the bay supports 91 species of fish, 325 species of birds and many other reptiles, amphibians and small mammals.
The Jamaica Wastewater Treatment Plant, built in 1903, is designed to treat 100 million gallons of wastewater per day from roughly 728,000 residents in Southeast Queens.
The upgrades to the treatment plant have already proven to be beneficial to the surrounding waterways, according to Daniel Mundy of the Jamaica Bay Eco-Watchers.
“The high nitrogen loading has long been a cause of water quality problems and we are extremely pleased to report that we are already noticing significant reductions in harmful algae blooms and increases in dissolved oxygen and water clarity due to the activation of this new technology,” Mundy said.
The Jamaica Wastewater Treatment Plant is not the only beneficiary of the DEP’s project. In total, DEP has committed more than $187 million to reduce nitrogen discharges from the four wastewater treatment plants located on the bay by over 50 percent over the next ten years.
To top it off, DEP has also provided nearly $20 million in wetland funding for restoration projects within the bay. This funding, according to Mundy, has “already led to the restoration of two wetland islands that are not only critical to the ecology of the bay, but also offer protection to the adjacent communities during storms.”