It’s time to get on track, catch nutrient reduction train
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There is a train leaving the station and Maryland is driving it. Pennsylvania is running to jump on, but Virginia is not even at the station.
The train is simply a metaphor for funding the critical upgrades needed at sewage treatment plants to begin reducing the flow of nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
As the Bay Program now admits, more than 110 million pounds of nitrogen must be reduced on an annual basis from point and non-point source discharges by the year 2010. If these reduction goals are not met, the states will have failed to meet their obligations under the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, and the EPA will step in and impose a TMDL (total maximum daily load) to control this pollution.
Maryland’s Gov. Robert Ehrlich and General Assembly are well on their way to passing legislation to provide financing for upgrading sewage treatment plants to the level of available technology—generally no more than 3 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of wastewater.
Through this legislation, for a modest fee, Maryland citizens will be making a very real contribution toward the future health and vitality of the region’s premier natural resource.
Bipartisan legislative leaders have voiced strong support for the bill, even while they continue to work to further strengthen it.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell hopes to use a substantial part of proposed bond funding to upgrade sewage treatment plants.
A $250 million sewage infrastructure bond referendum on the upcoming Pennsylvania primary ballot could also be used for upgrades. This funding can leverage existing financing through PENNVEST, which provides low-interest loans for environmental improvements and economic development.
Pennsylvania is also considering nitrogen pollution limits and loading caps in its discharge permits.
In Virginia, Gov. Mark Warner has committed to nitrogen pollution permit limits through a regulatory initiative that he proposed at the December Executive Council meeting. Funding proposals for sewage treatment plant upgrades, though, failed during the recent General Assembly session.
Governor Warner’s and state Sen. John Chichester’s proposals for millions of dollars per year for water quality improvement are (as of this writing) entangled in the House and Senate budget stalemate. Other proposals such as Del. Albert Pollard’s sewage and septic fee and Sen. Emmett Hanger’s water utility fee stalled in committee.
Most disturbing was the strong opposition to a nitrogen pollution reduction bill that would have placed in statute Virginia’s existing Chesapeake 2000 commitments to time lines and loading reductions.
Introduced by state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, it was uniformly opposed by the Virginia Association of Municipal Wastewater Agencies and the Virginia Manufacturers Association. VAMWA has now resorted to a tactic of challenging the 110 million pound reduction goal as well as the 2010 time line, arguing for a 2016 deadline. Senator Whipple and Delegate Pollard have both committed to working on their legislation over the course of this year.
There is no excuse to delay further the upgrading of sewage treatment plants, a technological and scientifically based solution to a large part of the nitrogen reduction challenge. Upgrades are cost-effective, job-inducing and immediately available. No other pollution reduction strategy has such attributes. They will not do the entire job, of course, but they can provide up to 40 million pounds of nitrogen reduction annually.
There is dangerous talk afield that the 2010 goal of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement should be cast aside. Admitting failure before any realistic attempt has been made to implement it is disgraceful.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed lies in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic region of the United State—the most technologically advanced and prosperous nation on earth. Continuing to allow poorly treated sewage to flow into our public waters is a clear violation of the public trust doctrine and, specifically in Virginia, it is contrary to the provisions of Article XI of its Constitution.
The time for sewage treatment upgrades is now, not tomorrow, not the next legislative session.
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