Jamaica Bay: What Restoration Steps would you Propose?

In an earlier post, I argued that Jamaica Bay is not New York City’s “crown jewel” and has many problems, such as sewage spills, low-oxygen dead zones, and disappearing marshes and islands.  Hundreds of thousands of people living in neighborhoods surrounding the bay are highly vulnerable to flooding under a hurricane storm surge that could happen tomorrow, as well as to creeping sea level rise.  These are not only environmental problems, but huge problems directly that could affect people’s homes, livelihoods and well-being, and solving these problems would have billions of dollars of long-term benefits.

A $13.5 billion, 30-year state-federal partnership is being implemented to restore The Everglades, and has many benefits for both the economy and the environment of Florida.  New York City has been gaining momentum for a possible injection of federal resources — DOI Secretary Salazar visited recently and asked for ideas on the future of the bay.

What specific actions would you propose, if several billion dollars were available to improve the environment of Jamaica Bay and its surrounding neighborhoods?

I posed this question to several experts on Jamaica Bay, wastewater treatment, and marsh restoration, and received some great input.  Charles “Si” Simenstad, Research Professor and Coordinator of the Wetland Ecosystem Team in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, said:

There are multiple major restoration or revitalization projects nationwide, including The Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay and Puget Sound, so don’t be afraid to think big.  When contemplating what is possible for Jamaica Bay, you should study the lessons learned from these other projects.  Our Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project is very much the “what can you do with a major, well-funded project … that’s strategic!” perspective, and may also be a useful model.

Here are some relevant points we’ve learned from those projects –
* Rather than seeking to re-create original conditions, the only feasible goal you can strive to attain is thus to establish sites that are self-regulating and integrated within their landscapes.

* Initiatives in urban estuaries offer the opportunity for expansion of public understanding, appreciation and even direct involvement in restoration.

* Using external peer review and other ›lessons learned‹ mechanisms, as well as producing white papers and other guidance documents that provide timely dissemination of results to the broader restoration community.

* Employing models – conceptual to hydrodynamic, sedimentological, and ecological – to test hypotheses responses and support adaptive management.

* Be aware that the bay’s response to restoration may alter the structure and composition of component ecosystems in a way that may not be part of the historic template.

Simenstad also more recently submitted a more detailed reply, which I’ve added as a guest blog post.  Alan Cohn, Director of Climate Change Planning for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, wrote his own guest blog post:

It can start with a rain barrel.  The renewal of the idea that water is a resource, not waste–an obvious concept to a farmer, but one that has escaped the consciousness of many city dwellers whose water starts at the faucet and ends at the drain.  By once again embracing water as a resource, New York City has begun to create a new urban ecology that restores ecosystem services and incorporates nature back into the city.  Green infrastructure and living shorelines are amongst the buzzwords transforming the way we think about our cities’ insides and edges.  The New York City Green Infrastructure Plan and Vision 2020: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan are two recent efforts that challenge the status quo in the coming decades.  Both plans are put into context with the recent update to PlaNYC.

Just like no single energy source known today will stop greenhouse gas emissions and prevent climate change, there is no silver bullet for adapting to it.  A portfolio approach tailored to each city and neighborhood is necessary to prepare for more intense weather events in the future as well as the extreme events that we face today.

In this post, I will briefly highlight the plans and efforts already underway to enhance the environmental quality and resilience of Jamaica Bay and the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary.  While these projects were designed with multiple environmental goals, their role for improving climate change resilience should also be realized.  Incorporating these resiliency benefits into sustainability research and planning is an opportunity to add momentum and funding to the many projects that still need resources.  Read more …

One thing I learned in this forum is that there are already multi-billion dollar long-term restoration efforts for Jamaica Bay and surrounding neighborhoods — expensive wastewater treatment expansions and improvements.  But these don’t address the new issue I raised in my prior post — they don’t reverse the changes in the bay that have made its surrounding neighborhoods vulnerable to a hurricane storm surge.  In a related post, I will discuss a possible source of billions of restoration dollars that could help address this vulnerability problem.

If you have an answer of your own, feel free to contribute it below, or email me if you’d like to contribute it as a guest blog, which I’ll link here.

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