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NY/NJ Coastal Embayments

Nutrient Assessment and Management for Shallow Coastal Embayments in New York and New Jersey

Implementation of the Clean Water Act has allowed for significant improvement in the coastal water quality of the New York-New Jersey region, resulting in the restoration of many historical uses and functions of these waters. Despite this success, coastal water quality problems remain and additional actions are needed to fully restore coastal waters. Many waters experience periodic harmful algal blooms and declining trends in submerged aquatic vegetation and desirable fish and shellfish species.

Nutrient over-enrichment of coastal, shallow water embayments in New York and New Jersey leads to eutrophic conditions in those waters. Enriched nutrients in bay waters promote the growth of opportunistic organisms, such as certain species of phytoplankton and macroalgae. Due to the complex relationship among nutrient loads, ambient water column concentrations, and environmental fate and effects, the development of additional or alternative nutrient criteria and management scenarios is needed for these systems.

NEIWPCC, in coordination with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC), and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP), supported the development of site-specific nutrient management plans, including the determination of appropriate numeric criteria or endpoints for two coastal bay systems – Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor in New Jersey and Hempstead Bay on New York’s Long Island. Projects were designed to facilitate the understanding of fate and effects and the implementation of management measures to reach the desired ecological endpoints.

Barnegat Bay – Little Egg Harbor

From 2009-2013, Rutgers University, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), executed the Assessment of Nutrient Loading and Eutrophication in Barnegat Bay–Little Egg Harbor (BB-LEH), NJ in Support of Nutrient Management Planning project (Nutrient Assessment). This interdisciplinary Nutrient Assessment project, conducted by Rutgers researchers Michael J. Kennish, Benjamin M. Fertig, and Richard G. Lathrop and USGS researchers Ronald J. Baker, Christine M. Wieben, and Robert S. Nicholson, integrated models of the coupled BB-LEH watershed-estuary system to estimate levels of nutrient loading and employed a suite of key water quality, biotic, and habitat indicators for quantifying and characterizing estuarine responses and eutrophic conditions associated with these environmental stressors at local and estuary-wide scales.

Due to the complexity of the BB-LEH ecosystem and the comprehensive scope of the project, NEIWPCC elected to request guidance from a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) comprised of local stakeholders. The group included staff from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 office, and the Barnegat Bay Partnership’s Program Director and Program Scientist. The TAC corresponded and provided input throughout the project, from the initial stages through the final draft Nutrient Assessment report. The final Nutrient Assessment report and USGS Appendix can be found below.

Upon receiving the Nutrient Assessment report, NEIWPCC, in coordination with the TAC, elected to conduct an external peer review with three well-qualified reviewers, nationally recognized experts with broad expertise in estuarine science and statistical analyses. The goal of this peer review was to independently evaluate the methods and findings of the final Nutrient Assessment report and to determine the utility of these methods both for assessing the health of the BB-LEH ecosystem and informing subsequent management decisions. The TAC recommended peer reviewers and then worked to develop the final list of potential reviewers, taking into account potential conflicts of interest. The three participating peer reviewers possess a strong mix of knowledge and expertise in estuarine ecosystem science and also in the statistical methodologies employed in the development of indicator thresholds and eutrophication indices.

Peer review comments have been summarized in the document below titled NEIWPCC Executive Summary of Barnegat Bay Peer Review Responses. Original peer review comments have been compiled in the document below titled Peer Review Responses for Assessment of Nutrient Loading and Eutrophication in Barnegat Bay–Little Egg Harbor, NJ in Support of Nutrient Management Planning.

Western Bays / Hempstead Bay

From 2009-2013, the Battelle Memorial Institute, in collaboration with Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and supporting consultants, executed the Ecosystem Assessment and Nitrogen Management in Western Bays, New York project. Co-led by Battelle’s Thomas Gulbransen and Stony Brook’s Larry Swanson, the project proposes to (1) recommend alternative criteria or endpoints that can be monitored to evaluate whether the waters of the Hempstead Bay ecosystem are attaining their designated uses, and (2) develop a Nutrient Management Plan (NMP), specific to the Hempstead Bay ecosystem, which will incorporate a nutrient loadings budget, hydrodynamics, and biological growth forecasts to prioritize the various nutrient management options being considered by stakeholders and agencies. The final report for this project is undergoing review and expected to be completed in early 2015.