By tapping into unused waste-treatment capacities, Virginia could clean the Bay for less than half of the $1.2 billion it had estimated it would cost to rid the Bay of pollution by 2010, according to a new report.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said a report from an expert in nutrient removal technologies at Virginia Tech provides a plan for meeting the deadline and shows that state and industry officials have inflated cleanup costs.

Clifford W. Randall’s study, paid for by the CBF, said “fairly minor upgrades” and funding such as a “flush tax” similar to one enacted in Maryland could lead to cheaper and faster means of cutting the amount of nutrients released at Virginia’s sewage-treatment plants, the source of about one-third of the state’s pollution to waterways.

“We’re all part of the problem. We all need to be part of the solution,” said Roy A. Hoagland, the foundation’s executive director. “For less than the cost of a weekly lottery ticket per household, we can clean up Virginia’s sewage-treatment plants.”

The CBF’s top priority in the 2005 Virginia General Assembly session will be to create a fee similar to Maryland’s flush tax.

To remove nutrients, most plants use a technology called biological nutrient removal, which uses microbes in the wastewater to remove nitrogen. One of the major impediments to upgrading wastewater treatment plants is building enough capacity to hold the wastewater long enough for the microbes to do their job.

But the study found that most wastewater treatment plants have significant unused capacity. By using that area to hold wastewater rather than constructing additional capacity, the $1.2 billion cost estimated for upgrading Virginia’s wastewater treatment plants could be cut by more than half, according to the study.

According to Randall, tapping into a plant’s excess treatment capacity would allow the facilities to use nearly 40 percent of the plant that’s currently out of service.

Most plants are purposely overdesigned, made larger in case of future population surges, Randall said. It’s also the chief reason why industry officials—fearing the plant would be unprepared for a population upswing—oppose such a tactic.