Monday, June 22, 2009

Chesapeake Bay Water Shed-How is it Doing?

Recent articles in the Washington Post have talked about the failure to meet effluent goals for the Chesapeake Bay Water Shed, an area spanning six states, a 64,000 square-mile watershed, and 180,000 miles of tributaries and coastline. This begged the question of what do the release numbers look like. The numbers above were supplied by the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis. The contaminants of concern are nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediments.

The Chesapeake Bay Commission was created in 1980 to coordinate Bay-related policy across state lines and to develop shared solutions. The catalyst for their creation was the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) seven-year study (1976-1983) on the decline of the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Commission was established by Maryland and Virginia to assist the states in cooperatively managing the Chesapeake Bay. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania became a member in 1985. The legislative mandated goals of the commission were:

  • to assist the legislatures in evaluating and responding to mutual Bay concerns

  • to promote intergovernmental cooperation and coordination for resource planning

  • to promote uniformity of legislation where appropriate

  • to enhance the functions and powers of existing offices and agencies, and

  • to recommend improvements in the management of Bay resources.

Despite more than 25 years of effort, the Bay’s waters remain seriously degraded and considerably short of attaining the 2010 water quality goals set forth in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. As a result, the US EPA is under a court order to draft a new Bay-wide cleanup plan by May 2011. Because of the region’s failure to meet the 2010 deadline for water quality in the Bay, a new federally mandated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan is being written to establish and apportion an allowable pollution budget among the states. With input from the six Bay watershed states (Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and Delaware) and the District of Columbia, the EPA will set nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment limits for each impaired tributary and the Bay, together with maximum allowable point source and non-point source loadings.

The Federal Clean Water Act gives regulatory authority to the states to restrict pollutants discharged into the waters of the Bay from point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants. In contrast, that authority does not extend to non-point sources, such as farms and septic systems. Will the Federal mandate provide the necessary teeth for the states to committe the funds, and other state resources. The states need to address these non-point sources using other regulatory schemes. Reductions in discharge of contaminants can be achieved through the implementation of “agricultural best management practices” operations. Mandated implementation of these practices will have to be accomplished under state regulations. With state budget constraints where will the funding for these programs come from? What programs will be reduced to pay for achieving Federally mandated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) goals? Will this directly impact the cost of food or will that cost be burried in state taxes? Saving the Chesapeake Bay is important, it has been easy in the past to avoid tough choices of spending and resouce reductions in other areas by pushing those decisions into the future with each change in the the effluent goal time line.

In addition, Federal action and funding is necessary for reduction of the largest point source of nitrogen remaining in the watershed, the Blue Plain Wastewater Treatment plant in Washington, DC. Congressional action is needed for funding for enhanced nutrient removal technology. This investment at Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant would significantly reduce nitrogen flows from the largest single source of nutrient pollution in the watershed removing almost four million pounds of nitrogen or 7.7% of the point source total each year.

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