Since 2008, more than $1.64 million in state and federal money has been spent on studies documenting high levels of ammonia and nitrate near the mouth of the existing Bay Park outflow pipe, in Reynolds Channel. And recent findings show that when effluent is released into the bay, it does not move out into the ocean, as previously thought. In fact, Long Beach island acts as a barrier, preventing treated sewage from reaching the ocean, and instead it sloshes back and forth in the Western Bays for months at a time, damaging an already fragile ecosystem.
Even when sewage is treated, Esposito explains, nitrogen levels build up, causing root systems in the wetlands to be very shallow. Shallow roots weaken the wetlands, and eventually they can no longer protect the mainland against storm surges and flooding.
Studies by Stony Brook University have also concluded that the nitrogen in sewage causes harmful algae blooms, reduces oxygen in the water (which kills fish), stimulates seaweed growth and leads to the deterioration of salt marsh islands that surround the mainland. The accompanying release of noxious hydrogen sulfide gas threatens the health of communities surrounding the bays.
State and federal studies have shown that 95 percent of the nitrogen in the bays comes from the Bay Park and Long Beach plants, with 85 percent from Bay Park alone. The Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have already declared vast areas of the water of the bays “impaired.”
The degradation of our estuaries has a ripple effect. Polluted waters mean less fishing and recreational boating, closed beaches and fewer tourism dollars in a coastal area that depends on these industries.
We applaud the efforts of Schumer and Mangano, and call on the federal government to provide these desperately needed funds to ensure that Bay Park does not continue to pollute the bays. And although an upgraded plant is needed, it’s not enough to protect human health and the environment. An ocean outflow pipe would not only help us avoid environmental disaster in the future, but is needed to safeguard our bays and the health of those who live near them.