Jamaica Bay’s revival begins with mollusks

Troubled Jamaica Bay is going from stinky to stunning!

Pilot projects using natural water cleansers such as oysters, and improvements to the sewer system are yielding tangible results, according to a report released by the city on Monday and — more important — those who live and play along the 39-square-mile bay.

“In the past, we would observe a plume of discolored water atop Paerdegat Basin [one of the bay’s inlets], and people would be driven from their patios because of the horrendous smell,” said John Wright, a board member of the Sebago Canoe Club. “We are very pleased to see the progress.”

The bay, part of the National Park Service, borders Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County, and includes approximately 142 square miles of meadowland, marshes, dunes and forests and open water — habitats that support 91 species of fish and 325 species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals.

Humans, such as Wright, and his 220-member club will also be the beneficiaries of a cleaner bay, but there is still a long way to go before it’s as clean as it could be.

To that end, the Department of Environmental Protection has tweaked its Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection plan, focusing on upgrades to the wastewater treatment plants that dump approximately 300 million gallons of treated wastewater in the bay every day.

That water has a high concentration of nitrogen, which results in poor water quality that allows harmful algae to thrive. The algae diminish the bay’s oxygen, killing wildlife.

The city — compelled by law by the state to do so — announced that it would invest $115 million to improve the overall water quality and mitigate marshland loss in Jamaica Bay, the bulk of the money going to the installation of new nitrogen control technologies at the four wastewater treatment plants located on the bay. The money, along with $95 million taxpayers previously committed, will reduce nitrogen in the bay by nearly 50 percent by 2020.

Agency commissioner Cas Holloway said the mayor has made the restoration of the bay “a special priority” in the effort to improve harbor water quality throughout the region.

“We are on track to achieve the goals outlined in the [plan] that will substantially improve the overall quality of the bay’s ecology,” he said.

The report notes that the city has already planted 1,000 eelgrass marine plants as part of a $350,000 pilot program to evaluate the potential for establishing small beds, which are seen as beneficial to fish and mollusks; and restored 10,000 oysters to help filter excess nutrients from the water.