States Budget Cuts, Non-Compliance Muddy Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up

New report shifts focus of slowing Chesapeake Bay clean-up away from agriculture, citing state funding shortfalls, non-compliance and illegal discharges.

Published on: Dec 10, 2012

A new report on the Chesapeake Bay clean-up was released on Thursday by the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C., based environmental advocacy group. This time, the focus was on industrial and municipal sewage treatment plants – not agriculture – in Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The report revealed that the Bay clean-up progress is continuing, but slowing due to the high costs of treatment plant upgrades and state environmental agency staff cutbacks. Achieving further reductions will require tougher state permitting and improved oversight, suggests EIP Attorney Tarah Heinzen.

EIP found that nitrogen discharges from industrial and municipal sewage treatment plants to the Chesapeake Bay watershed declined significantly in Maryland and Virginia in 2011.That was due to a substantial state funding of treatment plant upgrades.

States Budget Cuts, Non-Compliance Muddy Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up
States Budget Cuts, Non-Compliance Muddy Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up

But nitrogen loading from Pennsylvania point sources actually increased 4% in 2011, moving that state further from achieving Bay water quality goals set for 2017. At the same time, illegal point source discharges from municipal and industrial sources in all states added nearly 800,000 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 2011, with more than 12% of the largest facilities being out of compliance with permit limits for three months or longer,

Across the watershed, eight major significant municipal and industrial point sources increased nitrogen loadings from 2010 to 2011 by 50,000 pounds or more. Most, including Cargill Meat Solutions, are in Pennsylvania. Some are undergoing treatment plant upgrades.

Public sewage systems and industrial plants account for about 20% of the nitrogen and nearly 25% of phosphorus that ends up in the Bay, according to EIP. "Addressing illegal discharges and poor data reporting at these plants is critical," adds Heinzen.

State enforcement staff reductions don't help, according to Heinzen. For instance, Maryland Department of the Environment's water division lost more than 10% of its staff over the last decade. That lends to increased violations.

The EIP report noted that 12% of significant industrial and municipal dischargers violated nitrogen permit limits for at least one quarter of 2011. Some14% of dischargers failed to report nitrogen data for at least one quarter of 2011, up from 11% in 2009.

"No one said this is going to be easy," concludes Heinzen. "There are common-sense steps the Bay states should take to reduce industrial and municipal pollution."

But the biggest common-sense question remains: Where'll the money come from?

To read or download the full EIP report, click here.