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City starts project to preserve Jamaica Bay marshes

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The city has begun a massive overhaul of its water treatment centers near Jamaica Bay in an attempt to save the ecosystem’s dying saltwater marshes.

Last Thursday, the city Department of Environmental Protection announced that it had installed a new, biological nitrogen reduction system at its 26th Ward Wastewater Treatment Plant in Brooklyn. The excess nitrogen discharged by the plant and three others located near the bay have led to an excessive deterioration of the saltwater marshlands that make up the 31-square-mile environment.

“This is another measure in the steady drumbeat of great news for the health of Jamaica Bay,” DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway said in a statement.

Up until now, the plant was not able to remove nitrogen from treated wastewater and, combined with the other plants, would pump approximately 40,000 pounds of nitrogen into the bay every day, according to the DEP. The new equipment installed in the facility will use a chemical reaction to take the chemical element out of the water via a sludge process.

The process will reduce nitrogen discharge by 4,000 pounds a day, the DEP said.

The agency is also expanding its quality-testing program to determine the amount of bacteria in the water, the temperature of the water and other factors including the level of nitrogen.

“The new sampling we are doing will give us the most complete picture yet of water quality in the bay,” Halloway said.

For years, activists have been calling on the city to help curb the damage done to the bay, which has lost more than 70 percent of its marshland over the last 50 years. It contains 91 fish species and 325 species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and other organisms.

In February, the city announced it would be making $155 million in investments over the next 10 years to upgrade its facilities to reduce nitrogen and introduce new programs to save the marshland. Last month, it began planting eelgrass in the ecosystems to oxidize the water.

“Although a number of investments will take several years to complete, we’re already making good on Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg’s commitment to improve water quality in Jamaica Bay by taking immediate interim steps to substantially reduce nitrogen discharges while permanent facilities are under constructi­on,” the commissioner said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:56 pm, October 10, 2011
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