Chesapeake Bay area states, District submit plans to improve polluted waters

Watermen along the Chesapeake Bay face difficult times -- as dwindling crab and oyster populations leave many without enough to make a decent living, and forcing changes within the communities that reside along the bay.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 7:35 PM

It took a little muscle flexing, tough talk and a few threats, but the Environmental Protection Agency got what it wanted Monday: Most states in the Chesapeake Bay region submitted detailed plans to reduce the bay's pollution diet as part of a more aggressive effort to nurse its sickly waters back to good health.

Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and the District produced Watershed Implementation Plans to reduce the nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that have troubled the Chesapeake's waters and "threatened the livelihoods of thousands of Marylanders and potentially thousands of new jobs," according to a report released Monday by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Only Maryland and New York failed to meet Monday's deadline. Maryland officials said they needed another two to three days to pull together their plan. A spokesman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said the state "is still reviewing data and will not file today."

Although most states met the deadline, it will be weeks before the EPA knows whether the plans are adequate. The EPA would not comment on them. The plans show measures the states will put in place over the next 15 years to improve water quality in the bay.

Last year the EPA threatened to punish the states if they failed to submit adequate plans by opposing state-issued permits for new sources of pollution such as suburban storm sewers, requiring strict cuts from sewage treatment plans to offset chemical and manure runoff from farms and redirecting the flow of federal dollars to states toward unsolved pollution problems.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed houses 17 million people on 64,000 square miles in six states and the District. Stormwater runoff from city streets and rainwater runoff from farms are major sources of the nitrogen and phosphorous that are killing the bay. Tiny cuts have led to nasty bacterial infections for swimmers.

Farmers and their supporters have complained that the EPA's expectations for cleaning the bay are too high. City officials have said the pollution diet will raise water treatment costs that will be passed to taxpayers.

Douglas W. Domenech, Virginia's secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, complained in a letter that the EPA required the state to produce a plan that would cost $7 billion to implement "during the worse economy in generations."

But the governor will include $36 million next year in the Water Quality Improvement Fund "as a show of good faith," the letter said.

Virginia's plan includes actions to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the bay from all major sources, including sewage treatment plants, industrial facilities, urban areas, agriculture, forestry and septic systems. It also establishes a special process for evaluating the James River.

The District, which has the smallest slice of the watershed, promised to reduce the amount of nitrogen it pours into the Potomac River with technological upgrades to its Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant.

"We're in good shape," said Christophe A.G. Tulou, director of the District's Department of the Environment. But Tulou said he had a major concern. The federal government owns 30 percent of the city's buildings but will not pay what the District believes is a fair share for pollution controls required by the federal government.

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