Report Outlines Ways N.Y. Can Protect its Wetlands

N.Y. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Jan. 29 released a report that studies gaps in wetlands protections in the city and explores options for filling those gaps.

The report finds that while existing federal and state laws do a good job protecting the city's tidal wetlands and its large freshwater wetlands, smaller freshwater wetlands (less than 12.4 acres) are not as well protected and thus more vulnerable to threats from land use and development.

To gather more information on the smaller freshwater wetlands, the report recommends developing new high-resolution aerial and satellite wetland maps to precisely determine the size and location of unprotected wetlands before pursuing other options outlined in the report. The issuance of the report is one of the 127 initiatives of PlaNYC.

"Many New Yorkers don't realize there are thousands of acres of wetlands in the five boroughs," said Bloomberg. "Wetlands are robust ecosystems that perform crucial environmental functions like trapping pollutants, capturing stormwater runoff, sequestering carbon dioxide, and moderating storm surges. In PlaNYC, we promised to study wetlands and build on wetland successes like the impressive Staten Island Bluebelt stormwater project managed by the Department of Environmental Protection, as well as the thousands of acres of wetlands managed by the Parks Department."

The mapping efforts and policy evaluation called for in the report complement ongoing city efforts that protect wetlands, including:

  • Acquiring additional wetlands as part of the Bluebelt network, Parks system, and upstate watershed land;
  • Implementing the comprehensive Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan for the restoration of tidal marshes and other aspects of the Jamaica Bay ecosystem;
  • Implementing the Sustainable Stormwater Management Plan to reduce point and non-point source water pollution; and
  • Revising the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) Technical Manual that guides the process that City agencies use to identify the effect their actions may have on the environment.

The report also identifies threats to wetlands that are not from a lack of regulatory protection, but rather from the existing polluted or degraded condition of wetlands that may have been caused by rising sea levels and stormwater runoff. To address these threats, the city's Climate Adaptation Task Force will release a report on policies for the adaptation of wetlands and other critical infrastructure later this year. The city is also exploring alternative funding, mitigation banking, and other mechanisms for improved restoration and maintenance of wetlands.

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