Environmental Protection

Blue Plains Facility Has Until 2015 to Meet New Nitrogen Limits

The Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility will need to reduce the amount of nitrogen its discharges by 3.8 million pounds each year ─ a 45 percent reduction, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To help improve water quality in the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, EPA reissued the facility's operating permit with the lower limit.

“These reductions are critical to protecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay as well as the Potomac River,” said Shawn M. Garvin, EPA mid-Atlantic regional administrator. By significantly reducing nitrogen pollution from the Blue Plains plant, we’re taking a major step on the road to restoring the Bay for future generations. DC Water through its early actions to enhance treatment levels at this facility is clearly a leader in the Bay restoration.”

The five-year renewal of a Clean Water Act permit calls for DC Water (the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority) to reduce nitrogen discharges from 8.5 million to 4.7 million pounds each year by upgrading its facility. The plant modifications are to be completed by July 14, 2014 so that the pollution reductions can be fully achieved in 2015.

This action is part of a coordinated effort across the Bay region by EPA and State permitting agencies to control discharges of nitrogen and phosphorus from more than 483 significant wastewater facilities. The Blue Plains facility is the single largest point source discharger of nitrogen in the Bay Watershed.

Nitrogen from wastewater facilities has been reduced from 88 million pounds in 1985 to 49 million pounds in 2009, a drop of 39 million pounds for a decrease of 44 percent. As a result, the portion of the Bay’s overall nitrogen pollution that is attributed to wastewater dropped from 26 percent in 1985 to 19 percent in 2009.

Phosphorus has been reduced from 9 million pounds in 1985 to 3 million pounds in 2009, a drop of 6 million pounds for a decrease of 67 percent. As a result, the portion of the Bay’s overall phosphorus pollution that is attributed to wastewater dropped from 35 percent in 1985 to 17 percent in 2009.

By 2015, when all of the 402 significant municipal wastewater facilities and many of the 81 significant industrial wastewater facilities will be upgraded to meet new stringent permit limits, wastewater loads to the Bay will be reduced by an additional 11 million pounds of nitrogen and 100,000 pounds of phosphorus.

The Blue Plains permit also ensures continued progress on DC Water’s control of combined sewer overflows from the sewage collection system to reduce the diversion of pollutants to local streams when it rains. Blue Plains serves the District of Columbia, Montgomery and Prince Georges counties in Maryland, and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia ─ treating wastewater for approximately 1.6 million people. It is the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world, with a capacity of 370 million gallons per day and covering 150 acres.
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