EPA Approves Maryland Water Quality Standards

EPA has approved new water quality standards for Maryland, setting in motion the largest interstate effort in the nation to control nutrients by regulating nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

"Maryland's new water quality standards are a pivotal piece in our multi-state effort to increase nutrient controls across the Chesapeake Bay watershed," Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water, announced on Sept. 1. "Taking actions like these in collaboration with our Bay partners will help to provide the highest levels of protection and restoration for the nation's largest and most biologically diverse estuary."

EPA announced an agreement with six states and the District of Columbia on Dec. 29, 2004 to begin a coordinated permitting approach that will set permit limits on nutrients being discharged from more than 400 treatment facilities throughout the 64,000 square-mile watershed. The permit limits are expected to annually reduce the discharge of 25 million pounds of nitrogen and 1.2 million pounds of phosphorus. The Maryland water quality standards trigger full implementation of the permitting agreement.

The discharge of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) from wastewater treatment is one of the most serious problems affecting the Chesapeake Bay. Excessive nutrients in the Bay cause algae blooms in the water, which leads to oxygen depletion and other adverse impacts on water quality. Excessive algae growth can also block sunlight that is critical to support plant and aquatic life.

"Maryland's new state-of-the-art Enhanced Nutrient Removal based loading limits are consistent with the requirements of the Clean Water Act and will ensure that Maryland can achieve and maintain its nutrient reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries," said Kendl P. Philbrick, secretary of the Maryland Department of Environment. "Maryland's water quality standards are vital in our effort to preserve and restore the Chesapeake Bay and its irreplaceable cultural, economic and recreational resources. They are the basis of our water pollution control efforts and improve our ability to effectively regulate water quality in a scientifically sound manner."

For years, permits have required nutrient removal to achieve localized water quality standards. However, the lack of science-based and achievable water quality standards for the Chesapeake Bay has made it difficult for the states and EPA to regulate nutrient reductions needed to protect the bay.

EPA has been working with states for several years to develop a basin-wide strategy for these nutrient permit limits. This new strategy covers the entire watershed, and describes how states and EPA plan to develop permit limits based on the living resource needs of the Bay. States participating in the strategy include Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The Chesapeake watershed already has about 100 municipal and six industrial facilities treating wastewater with nutrient removal technology to remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus. No other watershed in the country has more treatment facilities using this technology.

More information on Maryland's water quality standards can be viewed online at http://www.mde.state.md.us/Programs/WaterPrograms/TMDL/wqstandards/index.asp.

A copy of a document that outlines the permitting approach can be found on EPA's Web site at http://www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/npdes/index.htm.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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