New bay cleanup plans to be issued

Monday is deadline for states' pollution cut blueprints

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
Capital Gazette Communications
Published 11/26/10

The path for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay may become clearer Monday.

That's when the bay watershed states must submit plans on how to make serious pollution cuts from farms, sewage plants, septic systems, car exhaust, power plant emissions, and developed urban and suburban areas.

The federal government will incorporate the state plans into the bay "pollution diet."

"The plan literally is the road map. It sets out which strategies will be chosen," said Shari T. Wilson, Maryland's environment secretary.

When draft plans were turned in by the six states and Washington, D.C., in September, Maryland was the only jurisdiction to get generally high marks from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the pollution diet process.

Some states, the EPA said, submitted plans that didn't include enough pollution reductions to meet the requirements of the diet, which officially is called a "total maximum daily load," or TMDL. Some states, the agency said, didn't lay out an adequate plan for getting the reductions.

In the intervening months, those states have been working with the EPA to test out pollution-cutting scenarios.

In a conference call with reporters, EPA officials wouldn't offer details, but said the states are making progress.

Officials from some states - not Maryland - have questioned the entire process and cast doubts on the EPA's computer models.

Jon Capacasa, EPA's regional water quality director, said all the jurisdictions need to get on board. The other states are New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and Virginia.

"The bay TMDL is not optional," Capacasa said. "It is required by the Clean Water Act … It's also required by the president's executive order and by legal settlements. It is not an optional endeavor."

Maryland officials have been aggressive in dealing with their pollution diet, setting a state cleanup goal of 2020. The EPA's goal is 2025.

But even Maryland has room for improvement, said Kim Coble, Maryland executive director of the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"We're looking for the assurance that they have the programs and the funding - or will be getting the programs and funding - to attain the reductions," Coble said.

Coble gave an example: Maryland's plans rely on upgrading sewage plants to cut down on nitrogen and phosphorus discharges. But the "flush fee" fund that pays for sewage plant projects doesn't have enough cash to upgrade the anticipated number of plants. The state should explain how sewage upgrades will be paid for, Coble said.

If the state plans fall short, the EPA will step in and make any changes necessary to meet the pollution reduction targets.

The pollutants nitrogen and phosphorus fuel the growth of algae blooms that suck oxygen from the bay's water. And sediment - tiny bits of dirt that wash into the water - smothers oysters and blocks light from reaching underwater plants.

Improving the health of the bay enough to get it off the list of the nation's most polluted waterways will require reductions in all three types of pollution - nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment.

In addition to evaluating the state cleanup plans, the EPA also is reviewing nearly 8,000 public comments collected this fall.

Many of the comments were from organized campaigns by environmental groups such as the bay foundation,

But about 700 comments were detailed letters that EPA officials are reviewing.

"The EPA greatly values the formal written comments we received," Capacasa said.

The state bay cleanup plans should be posted online Monday at www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl.

(Revised October 2010)