Wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will have to comply with new pollution limits under a new Environmental Protection Agency policy.
The agency announced yesterday that it has reached an agreement in which the six watershed states and the District of Columbia will set limits for the discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus in local waterways. States, which issue the permits, will work with the EPA to make sure they are enforced.
"It's a milestone. I think it's unprecedented," said Jon Capacasa, director of the water protection division for the EPA's mid-Atlantic region.
Currently, most of the 350 wastewater treatment plants in the bay watershed states do not have discharge limit levels on their permits. EPA officials estimate that the new limits would reduce nitrogen pollution by about 17.5 million pounds each year, and phosphorus by about a million pounds.
Nitrogen pollution is putting tremendous stress on the bay and contributes to the "dead zone," a condition where the pollution leads to low levels of oxygen in the bay that is harmful to marine life.
The bay does have standards for dissolved oxygen, but they are based on a national model and are impossible to enforce in the bay watershed, EPA officials say. The agency has been working with the states to come up with water-quality standards for individual watersheds that are enforceable, Capacasa said.
Capacasa said he expects the new standards to be in effect by spring.
The policy will force sewage treatment plants to spend tens of millions of dollars on technology to reduce discharges. In Maryland, at least some of the money for upgrading sewage plants will be generated by a "flush tax." Utility customers will pay $2.50 a month to the fund.
The other states in the watershed are New York, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania.