KENT ISLAND, Md. – In a move hailed by environmental groups as a “historic” step, Gov. Parris Glendening signed an executive order Thursday designed to significantly lower nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and bring the state closer to its water quality goals.
“With this reduction . . . we will have covered 40 percent of our nitrogen reduction goal and 30 percent of our phosphorus reduction goal,” Glendening said during a press conference on the beach near the Kent Island wastewater treatment facility.
The bay is listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called “dirty waters” list, and the state aims to get the bay off that list by 2010.
Nutrients in water released from wastewater treatment plants contribute 30 percent of bay nitrogen pollution. Agricultural runoff, the bay’s largest source of nutrient pollution, contributes 36 percent.
Many wastewater treatment plants cannot even reach the old goals of 8 milligrams of nitrogen per liter of treated water, said Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokeswoman Susan O’Brien.
But the new order calls for the development of a wastewater treatment policy that would reduce the amount of released nitrogen to 3 milligrams per liter, and 0.3 milligrams of phosphorus per liter.
“We’ve been saying for quite some time that wastewater treatment plants are . . . an easy target” for reducing nutrient loading in the bay, said Theresa Pierno, executive director of the foundation’s Maryland office.
The reduction levels require new, but existing, technology, said Robert Summers, water management director with the Maryland Department of the Environment, and some facilities, such as the Princess Anne sewage treatment plant in Somerset County, have already achieved the desired reduction.
But many more still have a long way to go. Of the 250 wastewater treatment plants in the state, 66 contribute 98 percent of the sewage flowing into the bay – about half a million gallons per day, Summers said.
Twenty new plants under construction are being built with room for the necessary upgrades, he added.
“It is our responsibility to invest in upgrading Maryland’s sewage plants,” Pierno said, “while we continue to work with farmers and landowners to reduce . . . agricultural runoff.”
That investment is expected to cost ratepayers between $5 and $14 per household per year, Glendening said.
But the upgrading of plants – the cost of which will rise 10 percent with the new standards – will be done case by case, he said, with the help of local governments and additional federal funding secured this year by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, and U.S. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville
“If we are serious about saving the bay – and we must be serious – then there’s little doubt that we must start with these facilities,” the governor said. “Time is not on our side.”
Glendening’s executive order could be cancelled by his successor, Republican Robert Ehrlich, who takes office in January.
Former Maryland state Sen. Bernie Fowler, who worked on bay issues as a lawmaker, praised the governor’s initiative during the press conference.
“This really will do more to improve the water quality of the bay and its tributaries than anything else I can think of,” Fowler said.
As a fisherman in the 1950s and 1960s, Fowler could wade into the bay chest- or shoulder-deep, and see his feet through the clear water, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. Since 1988, the elderly senator has conducted the same test every summer, although he has not been able to see nearly as deep.
With this new program, he said, “Bernie Fowler will probably be able to wade out and look down and see his feet once more.” – 30 – CNS-11-14-02