Virginia and Pennsylvania plan to move toward setting enforceable nutrient discharge limits in permits for wastewater treatment plants, officials announced at the December Executive Council meeting.

Demand for such limits has been increasing, as the Bay states face the need to achieve huge new nutrient reductions by the end of the decade. Before the meeting, dozens of people rallied, chanting “EC, we want three.”

That was a reference to a limit of 3 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of water that they wanted placed in all treatment plant permits, a figure that generally represents the limit of current technology.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner said he would launch a rule-making process, expected to take two years, that would lead to “technology-based” permits being established for wastewater treatment plants.

“There will be some of those plants that can get the the three level, there will be some where it will not be technically or financially feasible,” he said. “We cannot have a single numerical limit that would apply to all plants.”

Roy Hoagland, director of the Virginia office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called Warner’s announcement, “the most substantive proposal at the Executive Council meeting. For the Bay and for Virginia, the governor’s comment was a significant step,” Hoagland said. “It recognizes that there is technology available that it is affordable, is implementable, and in this instance it is necessary to protect the Bay, and to protect Virginia’s waters.”

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty also promised to begin using “regulatory tools like point source discharge permits, as appropriate and where effective.”

She did not say what level of treatment the state would seek, and officials had no further details.

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said he would announce “major initiatives” in the near future. Maryland has a policy of working to get wastewater treatment discharges reduced to 3–4 mg/l at all major treatment plants, but does not set enforceable discharge limits in its permits.

Nitrogen concentrations in treatment plants with no nutrient reduction technology are about 18 mg/l. Plants with normal nitrogen removal technologies can reduce that to 8 mg/l.

If all major wastewater treatment plants in the watershed attained the 3 mg/l standard, it would achieve about 25–30 percent of the 110 million pounds of nitrogen reductions the Bay Program is trying to make by 2010.