Go flush somewhere else: Jamaica Bay named a No Discharge Zone

Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Mayor Bloomberg met at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park on Thursday to sign an agreement to improve parks and water quality at Jamaica Bay.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

If you gotta go, you better not go in Jamaica Bay.

The 20,000 acre waterway that flows into Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Canarsie was declared a No Discharge Zone by the federal Environmental Protection Agency last week, meaning that boats are banned from discharging sewage into the bay so the water can remain pure.

If a sailor is caught emptying his bilge and sewage tanks into the bay, he could face a $250 fine, federal EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck explained.

“If you don’t have clean air, land and water, you can’t enjoy the great outdoors, and banning boat sewage from Jamaica Bay stops one source of pollution that is both harmful and completely unnecessary,” Enck said when she announced the new no discharge decree at the Salt Marsh Nature Center on Avenue U on Oct. 27. “This action will improve water quality in this magnificent bay that is right in the backyard of millions of New Yorkers.”

When a Jamaica Bay sailor’s sewage tank is filled to the brim, he’s required to sail over to one of four operable pumping stations that line the bay to discharge the ship’s waste.

Jamaica Bay isn’t New York’s first No Discharge Zone. Parts of the East River, Mamaroneck Harbor, and the waters around East Hampton and Port Jefferson in Long Island are also No Discharge Zones, as well as Lake George and Lake Champlain.

Jamaica Bay boaters do not see the new rules affecting them that much — even though they don’t see how the feds plan to enforce its new rule.

“If you have a john that you need pumped out, you call the doo-doo boat and they do it for you,” said Tom Melore, owner of the Bird Man, a 26-foot Maco he docks at the Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club. “Protecting the environment is a great thing, but enforcement is another issue. The old timers really don’t believe in ecology and when you tell them not to empty their tanks in the water, all they’ll say is, ‘It’s a big ocean.’ ”

Both the city and the federal government have been working diligently on improving Jamaica Bay’s water quality. In May, the city unveiled a new $404-million sewage treatment facility that will protect Jamaica Bay and Paerdegat Basin from wastewater overflows.

The no discharge rule was announced as Mayor Bloomberg and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced an agreement where they would revitalize the marsh and park lands surrounding Jamaica Bay.

The city and National Parks Service agreed to begin a joint planning process that would treat Jamaica Bay — which is about the size of three Central Parks, three Prospect Parks and three Van Cortland Parks combined — as one large urban park, rather than different parcels of city and federal land.

“This partnership will allow us to be bolder, more innovative and more cooperative,” Bloomberg said. “In the past, Jamaica Bay had been treated like a jigsaw puzzle where different pieces had different rules and operating procedures. In the end we did duplicate work that could have been done better if we worked together.”

Local elected officials hailed the new compromise.

“[The new compromise] will be fabulous,” said Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Marine Park). “For many years we complained that we didn’t know if we were sitting on city or federal land in Jamaica Bay. Now that’s all going to change.”

Fidler also applauded the creation of a No Discharge Zone.

“I remember sitting in meetings about Paerdegat Basin years ago and and the government said the basin would be swimmable in 20 years, I laughed out loud,” he said. “But now its getting there.”

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