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Bay 'pollution diet' moves forward

States submit plans to cut harmful runoff

By PAMELA WOOD
The Capital, Published 09/02/10

The Chesapeake Bay's new pollution limits are set, and now states are planning the "diets" that they're going to have to follow.

Most of the states that drain into the bay have submitted the first draft of their "watershed implementation plans" detailing how pollution cuts will be made. They were turned in to the federal government Wednesday.

The feds are leading the effort to create a baywide pollution diet, in hope of finally restoring the health of the bay and removing it from the list of the nation's dirty waters by 2025.

Environmental Protection Agency officials quickly began reviewing the plans, but said it would take some time before they could be fully analyzed.

Katherine Antos, a water quality official with EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program office, said the plans should detail steps that will be taken to cut down on pollution.

"We're asking the states and D.C. to tell us how they're going to do it," she said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.

EPA officials said they would post the state plans online by today - except for that of Virginia, which asked for an extension until tomorrow to give Gov. Bob McDonnell more time to review the document.

Officials promised that if the EPA isn't satisfied with the details in the plans, they'll make their own adjustments to them as they're incorporated into the overall bay pollution diet.

On Sept. 24, a draft of the pollution diet, including the state plans, will be released for public comment.

EPA officials indicated that they won't make any comments about the quality of the state plans until then.

"It will be an ongoing process of review," Antos said.

Jon Capacasa, who heads up water protection for the region for EPA, said he expects the plans to describe specific actions for cutting down pollution and meeting the 2025 deadline.

"We all recognize to achieve those goals and get the results that we all seek for a healthy bay, we really need to accelerate the pace at which restoration is occurring and get results from all sectors in the watershed," he said.

The Chesapeake is hurt by three key pollutants that wash into the water: nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that fuel the growth of algae blooms. When the algae die, they suck life-sustaining oxygen from the water, which harms fish, crabs, oysters and other critters.

Nitrogen and phosphorus come from farm and lawn fertilizer, sewage plants, septic systems, air pollution and stormwater runoff from urban and suburban areas.

Sediment is the tiny particles of dirt that wash off from farms, construction sites and developed areas. Sediment clouds the water, blocking light from reaching underwater grasses and smothering oysters.

Earlier this summer, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation wrote to Maryland officials, urging them to make sure the WIP included "new and aggressive approaches to delivering nutrient reductions."

Some of the foundation's ideas include planting more winter cover crops on farms, accelerating upgrades to sewage plants and requiring all new septic systems to have nitrogen-reducing technology.

The ultimate goal is to have the overall bay pollution diet - called a "total maximum daily load" - finished and approved by the end of the year. States that don't meet the new limits will face consequences such as loss of federal funds or denial of new permits.

For more than 30 years, efforts to revive the Chesapeake Bay have failed. Some say the efforts, at best, have just barely kept pace with population growth and increased development. Some 17 million people live in the 64,000-square-mile watershed that drains into the bay.


The "watershed implementation plans" from bay-area states will be posted at www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl.


(Revised September 2010)