Before the Committee on Environmental Protection Council of the City of New York Oversight -
Implementation of the Jamaica Bay
Watershed Protection Plan Strategies
October 29, 2010
Testimony of Angela Licata
Deputy Commissioner of
Environmental Planning and Analysis
New York City Department of Environmental Protection
Good morning, Chairman Gennaro and Members of the Committee. I am Angela Licata, Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Planning and Analysis at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the implementation of the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan strategies. At the outset, I want to recognize the work of this Committee and especially your leadership, Chairman Gennaro, whose efforts have greatly contributed to making 2010 a landmark year for Jamaica Bay.
The Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan was submitted to Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Quinn on October 1, 2007. The planning process required DEP to explore decentralized and integrated solutions for the issues facing our City’s most valuable and fragile natural resources including stormwater management, public access, and public education and outreach in addition to water quality and restoration ecology. Most significantly, the Plan presented a comprehensive and holistic watershed approach to water quality and ecological improvements considered more financially and environmentally sustainable than infrastructure improvements traditionally relied upon.
The goals of the plan were crosscutting and farreaching throughout the watershed, and Plan implementation was based on green and gray strategies, structural and non-structural measures, innovative alternatives, pilot studies and public outreach efforts. As you will hear later in my testimony, the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan has provided the model for watershed planning approaches citywide.
Together, the planning process and ongoing efforts of different stakeholders to implement the Plan over the course of the past three years have resulted in significant progress for the Bay. In February of this year, Mayor Bloomberg announced an historic agreement between the City, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and a coalition of environmental groups, including New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, the American Littoral Society, and Jamaica Bay Ecowatch, under which the City willmake $115 million in new investments to improve overall water quality and mitigate marshland loss in Jamaica Bay.
The investments include $100 million to install new nitrogen-control technologies at four wastewater treatment plants located on Jamaica Bay. The investments, made in concert with $95 million the City has already committed for nitrogen control upgrades, will reduce the nitrogen loads discharged into Jamaica Bay by nearly 50% over the next ten years. That puts us well on the way to meeting State water quality standards. And it will have a remarkable impact on the overall quality of the Bay’s ecology.
These upgrades range from basic retrofits of existing equipment to introducing new nitrogen-reducing chemicals and adding additional aeration tanks. The 26th Ward plant will be the first to be upgraded, by 2015. By 2019, work on the Rockaway plant will be finished. Upgrades to the Coney Island plant will be complete in 2020.
The City will also invest $15 million for marshland restoration projects around the bay. Since 2002, the City has invested $37.4 million to reclaim more than 440 acres of environmentally sensitive land adjoining Jamaica Bay and plans to remediate nearly 100 additional acres over and above the projects included in the agreement. For example, using $15 million in Federal stimulus funds, we are going to restore 38 acres of wetlands and grasslands near a DEP facility under construction in Paerdegat Basin.
Most recently — on September 28th — Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan, a comprehensive plan to improve harbor water quality by capturing and retaining stormwater runoff before it enters the sewer system. The NYC Green Infrastructure Plan identifies green infrastructure opportunities such as streets and sidewalks, multi-family residential complexes, commercial development parking lots and new development/redevelopment in combined sewer areas across the city, including those that are adjacent to Jamaica Bay and its tributaries. Specifically, the Plan quantifies these opportunities in terms of captured runoff, combined sewer overflow reductions, and cost savings compared to an all-gray infrastructure approach. In addition to water quality improvements, the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan is expected to enhance conservation, create green neighborhoods and reduce the costs required for grey infrastructure.
The multiple objectives of the Green Infrastructure Plan combined with a set of diverse implementation strategies presents a citywide management approach very similar to the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan. In fact, some of the first green infrastructure projects thought to be essential to the implementation of the Green Infrastructure Plan are being piloted in the Jamaica Bay Watershed.
The pilots are intended to demonstrate retrofit technologies most suitable to NYC’s environmental conditions and most likely to be replicated based on general land use opportunities and common development practices. Each pilot project includes monitoring for a two- to three-year period to collect data on performance and inflow and outflow measurements, construction costs, maintenance requirements, and potential water quality impacts within specific waterbodies. DEP’s robust monitoring program will measure and analyze the effectiveness of each demonstration project, and allow the City to fine tune the green infrastructure approach as it is scaled up to meet the goals of the Plan.
Another key aspect of adaptive management approaches in both the Green Infrastructure Plan and Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan ismonitoring on a larger scale. In June of this year, DEP launched an enhanced water quality testing program in Jamaica Bay, increasing the number of sampling sites there from 13 to 20 locations, including combined sewer overflow post-construction monitoring in selected tributaries. Bay and Harbor monitoring gives DEP vital information needed to ensure that the City's 14 wastewater treatment plants meet or exceed State and federal treatment standards and to determine the effectiveness of watershed-wide strategies over time.
In the remainder of my testimony I would like to offer more detail on a few of the wide range of implementation strategies that are enumerated in the nine-page chart at the front of the Plan Update: first, those that will see citywide application as elements of the Green Infrastructure Plan, and second, those that are integral to the ecological restoration of the Bay.
Streetside Swale / Enhanced Tree Pit Pilots
A total of five enhanced tree pits with subsurface storage capability and six streetside infiltration swales were constructed in various residential and commercial neighborhoods throughout the Jamaica Bay watershed this past spring and summer. Stormwater flow is directed to each tree pit and swale through a series of approved curb-cut or catch basin inlets. In the event of heavy rainfall, the tree pits and swales also have curb-cut outlets to relieve additional flow volumes. Different subsurface storage technologies are also being evaluated as part of the streetside swales, including stormwater chambers, crushed stone and recycled crushed glass. In addition to stormwater infiltration, vegetative uptake and evapotranspiration, these green infrastructure installations also provide depression storage on the surface for increased stormwater capture.
As the vegetation at each of these pilot sites becomes established, these pilot projects add aesthetic value and other environmental benefits to the community. In addition to the monitoring parameters to be evaluated across all of the pilots, these projects will also look more closely at maintenance procedures and costs to address potential agency concerns.
The North and South Conduit Avenue Stormwater Pilot
This pilot involves the design, construction and monitoring of a large bioretention system within an existing roadway median to divert stormwater runoff from adjacent roadways and away from the existing drainage infrastructure into green infrastructure. The project is located between North and South Conduit Avenues, near the intersection of Sutter Avenue in Queens. It is anticipated that drainage from approximately nineacres will be captured and treated by the proposed project. Street drainage modifications are being implemented through a combination of curb cuts, catch basin modifications, and installation of new catch basins.
Design recommendations for bioretention systems on other medians in New York City right-of-ways can potentially be established based on the monitoring results of this pilot.
Green Roof / Blue Roof Pilot
In partnership with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and School Construction Authority (SCA), DEP completed the construction of a blue and green roof comparison pilot study on an existing school roof this past August. The pilot will directly compare construction costs, maintenance requirements and performance of two rooftop source controls under similar environmental conditions.
Design of both the green roof and blue roof components wasbased on the typical structural loading capacity of existing buildings. Construction — completed this past August — involved the removal and replacement of the existing roofing system, installation of controlled flow orifices in the roof drains, intermediate check dams for the blue roof, and 4” of soil media on the green roof system. In addition to the blue and green roof installations, an unmodified section of the roof will serve as the control in the study.
This pilot project includes a significant educational component as DEP develops a monitoring program that involves the teachers and students of PS 118 through the installation of on-the-roof and other instrumentation in classrooms. Student involvement in monitoring combined with lessons on different environmental topics as provided in the Jamaica Bay Education Resource Directory can promote environmental awareness and stewardship early in a child’s education and development.
Rain Barrel Giveaway Program
This pilot, now complete, distributed 1,000 rain barrels — 250 rain barrels in the summer of 2008 and 750 in the summer of 2009 — to single- and two-family homeowners in the watershed. Through distribution and collection of a homeowner survey, the pilot allowed for an evaluation of homeowners’ interest and ability to install and maintain rain barrels and regularly use captured stormwater to irrigate lawns and landscaping. Homeowner responses were overwhelmingly positive: 84% of survey respondents were likely to recommend a rain barrel to a friend or neighbor and 95% said they would reconnect their barrel in the spring. Eighty percent said that the barrel satisfied at least half of their landscape watering needs.
Stormwater Rate Study
As you may also be aware, the Water Board completed a study in December 2009 that evaluated expenditures, revenue sources, and alternative water, wastewater and stormwater rate structures. A primary goal of the study was to research possible structures that could be implemented in New York City to enhance revenue stability, equity for customers, and resource conservation.
One strategy resulting from the study is a Sewer Charge for Stormwater for Parking Lots. The charge would apply to parking lots that have no water service and therefore do not pay for wastewater services, yet are generating demands on the wastewater system due to the extent of impervious surface coverage on these lots. Parking lots will be charged an annual wastewater charge for stormwater of $0.05 per square foot of property area. A credit program will be in place when DEP implements this. The charge to incentivize approvable green infrastructure technologies is to be implemented in January 2011.
These projects represent the City’s progress on several stormwater initiatives first identified in the Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan, and they are now expected to provide a sound, cost-effective basis for the continuous refinement of the adaptive management approach outlined in the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan.
Now I would like to describe the pilots and techniques we are implementing that are directed at improving water quality and the ecology of the Bay.
Marsh Island Restoration
Construction of the Elders Point West wetland began in November 2009. This $11.6 million project will restore approximately 35 acres of wetland habitat. DEP provided a cost-share of approximately $2.75 million.
An additional 60 acres of wetland habitat are proposed for restoration at Yellow Bar Hassock. Designs are currently being developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and are expected to be completed by the end of 2010.
This pilot consists of limited plantings of eelgrass near Floyd Bennett Field, Little Egg Marsh, Breezy Point Tip, Breezy Point Yacht Club and Dubos Point to evaluate existing environmental conditions forthe potential to restore eelgrass. Submerged aquatic vegetation beds are important for a number of fish and shellfish species. Additional objectives of the pilot were to determine appropriate planting depths, timing of plantings and whether to use seeds or adult shoots.
Although both the spring 2009 and 2010 planting of approximately 3,500 plants combined did not result in the sustainable establishment of eelgrass in Jamaica Bay, the pilot project has provided DEP a continuous learning opportunity not just about eelgrass but about the overall improving conditions within the bay. For example, excessive sediment movement may be one factor preventing the establishment of eelgrass. The Breezy Point Tip area exhibited the most favorable results and a larger-scale planting is anticipated to occur in the fall of 2011 to continue this study.
Paerdegat Basin Restoration
In January 2010, DEP announced the registration of a $15 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded contract to restore 38 acres of wetlands and coastal grasslands adjacent to the Paerdegat Basin CSO Facility. This investment will greatly improve the ecology of the Paerdegat Basin area and, when finished, will enable the community to enjoy a five-acre Ecology Park surrounded by native plant and animal life. The combination of absorbing more stormwater and the creation of tidal wetlands will improve water quality in Paerdegat Basin. The Ecology Park will offer access to salt marsh intertidal mudflats, grassland, and shrublands and include educational exhibits about coastal habitats. Construction began in spring 2010 and is expected to be completed in January 2012. The restoration will complement the $357 million capital investment that DEP is making in building the Paerdegat Basin CSO abatement project, which will store 50-million gallons of CSOs during storms.
Oyster Bed Pilot
This month DEP is undertaking two oyster bed reintroduction pilot studies within Jamaica Bay — the design and implementation of an oyster bed off Dubos Point, Queens, and the placement of oyster reef balls in Gerritsen Creek, Brooklyn. The oyster study will evaluate whether climatic and environmental conditions within the bay are suitable for oyster growth and reproduction. The study will also measure how effective these bivalves are at filtering various pollutants affecting the bay, such as nitrogen, other nutrients, and particulate organic matter. If the pilot is successful, the oysters could not only help regenerate the natural environment of the bay, but also provide additional water quality benefits.
I appreciate the opportunity to present testimony and to answer any questions you may have.