by Tom Damm
With a labyrinth of the most advanced wastewater treatment infrastructure glistening and churning in the background, a cadre of the region’s top environmental officials had an announcement to make this week.
Wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed together were effectively meeting their 2025 pollution limits 10 years ahead of schedule.
The announcement was made at the giant Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C. – the largest such plant not only in the watershed, but in the world.
Among the audience members were employees at the plant in their hardhats and bright green DC Water shirts, who, on behalf of their colleagues around the watershed, earned praise from the podium and applause from the crowd.
EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin said the wastewater sector was “leading the way” in the effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay and local waters, reducing nitrogen to the Bay by 57 percent and phosphorus by 75 percent since 1985.
Joining EPA at the event was Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles, District Department of Energy and Environment Director Tommy Wells and DC Water CEO and General Manager George Hawkins.
They spoke on a landing above one of the stops in the Blue Plains treatment process – the $1 billion Enhanced Nutrient Removal facility that helps the plant discharge water to the Potomac that’s cleaner than the river itself. (Surprisingly, at least for a first-timer to the plant, there was only a slight whiff in the air of the action happening in the open channels below.)
The event was an opportunity to give the wastewater industry its due; to recognize the achievements driven by advances in technology, enforceable Clean Water Act permits, funding from ratepayers and local, state and federal sources, operational reforms and phosphorus detergent bans.
And while the sector will need to maintain those limits in the face of population growth, and while other sectors will need to do their share to meet the goals of the Bay “pollution diet,” it was a day of well-deserved handshakes to mark a major milestone.
About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.