Lower nitrogen levels raise the bar along South Shore

What a waste: There are many innovative technologies for mitigating the environmental effects of human-spiked wastewater -- and several are now in play at the busy Bay Park Wastewater Treatment Plant.

From the Too Much of a Good Thing File comes the Bay Park Wastewater Treatment Plant, now featuring 40 percent less nitrogen.

The Wastewater Treatment Plant has flipped the switch on its new Biological Nutrient Removal system, a $19.6 million upgrade – funded by FEMA, via the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services – that’s now stopping thousands of pounds of nitrogen from flowing into Reynolds Channel.

Not all of it; nitrogen is a natural and healthy component of aquatic ecosystems. But too much can pollute a waterway, cause algae bloom and fish kills, even tip off a biological domino effect that ultimately weakens huge salt marshes – in this case, a serious threat to thousands of South Shore homeowners.

The Biological Nutrient Removal system balances those scales, utilizing the latest in denitrification technology (microbes convert nitrogen to gas) and dilution (essentially, spreading the wastewater around) to remove “more than 40 percent total nitrogen” from the wastewater flowing into Reynolds Channel, the Nassau County strait separating Long Beach Barrier Island from Long Island.

Forgetting, for a moment, the hefty irony that humans cause the excessive nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients threatening regional waterways, that’s a major ecological score – enough to significantly improve water quality for swimmers, anglers and other recreational water people, and to strengthen the underwater ecosystems that keep those flood-mitigating salt marshes robust and healthy.

Laura Curran: Saving homes.

Cuomo ticked off the multitude of positives Monday, calling the new Biological Nutrient Removal System “another example of New York State … building back better with solutions that not only protect our health but our precious natural resources, and also grow our economy.”

“The upgrade to the Bay Park plant will help prevent nitrogen pollution from degrading marsh islands, killing wildlife and damaging the delicate ecosystem that is vital to Long Island’s resiliency and ecological future,” the governor added.

Servicing more than a half-million Nassau County homes, the circa-1949 plant currently treats an average of 50 million gallons of wastewater per day. The upgrades – including a new “surface waste-activated sludge system,” modern mixers and new flow-directing panes and panels – are part of an $830 million state and federal plan to rebuild the Bay Park plant.

They also represent “immediate steps to help preserve our environment, as well as the health and safety of our waterways and residents,” according to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

“Excessive nitrogen levels have contributed to the collapse and erosion of marshes, which are critically important natural resources that help mitigate storm surge from reaching land,” Curran said in a statement. “Protecting our environment is the same as protecting our homes.”