Comments on New York City Sewage Treatment Plant Permits and Impact on Nitrogen Pollution and Dead Zone in Long Island Sound

Location: East River, New York City (Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx) | Status: Active 

Summary: Save the Sound filed formal comments urging DEC and EPA to impose meaningful additional nitrogen limits on the total discharge from six sewage treatment plants on the East River in New York City. Our comments were based upon the Clean Water Act’s requirement to set limits that will not cause or contribute to a violation of water quality standards. The science shows, and the agencies have acknowledged, that the permitted levels of nitrogen discharge from the plants are leading to harmful algal blooms, loss of tidal wetlands and eelgrass, coastal acidification, and low oxygen in the East River and Western Long Island Sound. The discharges have caused or contributed to parts of the East River and Western Long Island Sound violating water quality standards 90-100% of years between 2014 and 2019. While New York City is working on refined modeling that will inform long-term planning, there is more than enough information to require immediate reductions by:

(1) requiring the four upper East River plants (Tallman Island, Bowery Bay, Wards Island, and Hunts Point) to use existing nitrogen technology to achieve further reductions, and

(2) requiring Newtown Creek to install nitrogen-reducing technology.

Once new modeling and science is developed, the permit may be reopened to impose final, more refined long-term nitrogen limits. The potential for future action, however, must not serve as a barrier to the short-term reductions in this permit that are required by law. 

Latest step: Filed formal comments urging DEC and EPA to require further nitrogen reductions. We are awaiting agency response.

Next step: Final permits and responses to comments should be released in summer of 2022.

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