Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts are getting a big boost from way upstream — in New York.

The Binghamton-Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant is getting a $4.35 million federal grant to install biological nutrient removal — or BNR — technology as part of an upgrade to the aging facility.

“This award will allow the Binghamton-Johnson City Sewage Treatment Plant to dramatically reduce its nitrogen discharges into the Susquehanna River,” said Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-NY, in announcing the grant. “Improvements to the plant will improve the health of the river from Binghamton to the Chesapeake Bay.”

The plant will become the largest public wastewater treatment facility in the Susquehanna basin to use BNR, which can dramatically reduce nitrogen discharges.

New York — like West Virginia and Delaware — was never asked to sign any of the Bay Agreements aimed at restoring the Chesapeake, and therefore was never committed to make any reductions in nitrogen discharges, which tend to benefit salt water more than fresh water.

But the wastewater treatment plant was in need of upgrading, and officials decided to include BNR technology because of the potential that the EPA could eventually require nitrogen controls.

The EPA is in the process of developing water quality criteria for nutrients, which could ultimately mean nitrogen controls for the wastewater facility. “If the EPA requires a reduction in nitrogen discharges in the future, the Binghamton-Johnson City plant will be ahead of the curve,” Hinchey said.

The $4.35 million was approved by Congress in this year’s budget for wastewater treatment plants on the Susquehanna. The EPA decided to use all the money for improvements at the Binghampton-Johnson City plant because of their willingness to quickly begin implementing BNR as part of their upgrade, officials said. Officials at the plant believe the upgrade could be completed by 2001.

An aide to Hinchey said efforts would be made to seek money for other Pennsylvania and New York plants in next year’s budget.

“We think it works out well that we’re starting up at the first source, in any case, in that it will make the water cleaner all the way down the river,” said Wendy Darwell, a spokeswoman for Hinchey. “Ultimately, it works out pretty well for the Chesapeake Bay.”

The Binghampton-Johnson City plant is located a few miles upstream from the Pennsylvania border. It is the second largest public wastewater treatment plant on the Susquehanna, after Harrisburg, PA.

Right now, the plant discharges about 770,000 pounds of nitrogen a year into the river, according to Allison Wiedeman, point source coordinator for the EPA’s Bay Program Office.

BNR technology, which uses naturally occurring bacteria to transform nitrogen in the wastes into an inert gas, will reduce that by about 463,000 pounds a year, she said. That reduction is equivalent to the nitrogen runoff from about 30,600 acres of crop land, according to Bay Program figures.

The total amount of “point source” nitrogen (from wastewater treatment plants or industries) from the Susquehanna to the Bay was 13.8 million pounds in 1996 — the most recent year for which Bay Program figures are available. That was an increase of 9 percent since 1985..