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Group’s analysis details nutrient load violations, provides suggestions

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

Last week, an organization dedicated to the enforcement of anti-pollution laws released an updated report detailing the discharge of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loads into the Chesapeake Bay from industrial and municipal sources, including the Chesapeake Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant.

On Jan. 9, the Environmental Integrity Project released newly compiled data for the entire year 2012, serving as an update to the nonprofit’s December 2012 report, which examined 2011 loadings from industrial and municipal facilities as a major source of Chesapeake Bay pollution.

In response to the bay’s pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chesapeake Bay watershed states established total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs, to limit the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that is discharged into the bay. The limits went into effect in 2010 and require reductions in loadings of 25 percent for nitrogen, 24 percent for phosphorus and 20 percent for sediment by 2025.

The EIP provides objective analysis of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and harms public health, according to the organization’s website. The EIP also helps local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.

The Chesapeake Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant discharged 1,529 pounds of phosphorus more than the facility’s permitted level and had a total of 10 phosphorus permit limit violations, according to the updated report.

John Castero, superintendant of the Chesapeake Beach plant, said Monday the problem with the report is that the treatment plant wasn’t up to enhanced nutrient removal standards by the mandated date (Jan. 1, 2011) and was still working off the old permits.

“Well, due to budgets, finding the money to do this construction and do this new technology, we weren’t able to begin construction until June 10, 2013,” Castero said. “Up until that point, we were supposed to meet the stringent numbers” of the new permits, including total maximum daily loads. “We didn’t have the technology at the plant at that time.”

Some of the existing technology at the plant is 35 years old, and still other technology is more than 25 years old, Castero said. In the late 1980s, the Chesapeake Beach plant was the first in Maryland to get a grant from the state for biological nutrient removal — the system the plant currently is in the process of upgrading to enhanced nutrient removal.

“We’re doing the upgrade now, and we’re under a consent order,” which means the limits on phosphorus and nitrogen loads are “basically almost to where we can meet the old permits until the construction is finished” in 2016, Castero said.

“With the new technology and the new equipment we are installing, we’ll be able to meet those numbers,” Castero said. “The plant’s gonna be unbelievable — what we’re doing on this plant, we should just about be removing everything.”

The main point in the report’s findings is that despite efforts to reduce overall discharges in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and other bay states, significant violations added nearly 700,000 pounds of additional nitrogen into the bay in 2012. Maryland, according to the report, increased its loadings by more than 400,000 pounds.

Overall, the report states, bay watershed states are making significant progress toward meeting the 2025 nitrogen targets for large point sources; however, “this analysis also shows that the Bay states will meet their water quality goals sooner if they crack down on violators who fail to comply with nutrient limits in their permits.” The updated report focuses on large individual violators, which the report states can offset regional gains with illegal discharges. Seventeen large point sources from throughout the region reported illegal discharges of nitrogen totaling nearly 700,000 pounds, according to the report.

“2012 progress reducing industrial and municipal pollution in key Chesapeake Bay states is encouraging, but we need to do more if we want to stay on track and meet 2017 goals,” EIP attorney Tarah Heinzen said in an EIP news release about the report. “As significant pollution reductions become more difficult and expensive to achieve, addressing illegal discharges and poor data reporting at these plants will become increasingly critical.”

To achieve the total maximum daily load goals and restore the Chesapeake Bay, the report suggests the bay states improve their permitting and enforcement programs for point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants and other water and sewer facilities. One recommendation in the report is to renew permits on schedule and avoid administrative continuances of outdated discharge permits. Another is to adopt mandatory minimum penalties based on the pounds of illegal pollution discharged, to more effectively deter violations and support monitoring and enforcement programs.

To view and download the entire EIP report, go to www.environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/documents/2012_Update_The_Clean_Wate_Act_and_the_Chesapeake_FINAL.pdf.

ascott@somdnews.com