State tightens up wastewater discharge rules

- Posted on Jul 28, 2010 - 05:24 PM

A ceremonial signing of a recently-passed piece of environmental legislation will be held at 1:30 p.m. today in Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conference room in the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond.

Del. Harvey B. Morgan (R-Middlesex), who sponsored House Bill 1135 on wastewater discharge permits, said the new bill that became effective July 1 requires that wastewater treatment plants discharging more than 1,000 gallons per day completely offset nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

In the past, said Morgan during an interview Monday, smaller plants that treated 39,900 gallons or less per day had a legal loophole that allowed for continual replacement of failed plants as long as they were still under the GPD threshold. With the new bill, he said, those plants will be required to meet the same rigorous environmental requirements as larger treatment plants.

"This new threshold for requiring offsets will prevent the cumulative impacts of many new smaller plants on water quality in our local streams and rivers and the Chesapeake Bay," said Morgan in a press release.

The bill received support from such diverse stakeholders as representatives of municipal wastewater treatment plants, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Dominion Virginia Power.

The Chesapeake Bay and its rivers are unhealthy because of excess nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment, said the release. The main sources of these pollutants are wastewater treatment plants, agriculture, urban and suburban runoff, and air pollution.

Local governments have made great strides in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from wastewater treatment plants with the help of legislation and funding offered by the General Assembly and new state regulations, said the release.

Legislation passed in 2005 required large wastewater treatment plants that expand or new plants that discharge above a specified amount of wastewater (40,000 gallons per day, about 400 people) to compensate for their new nitrogen and phosphorus pollution by purchasing pollution reductions, or "offsets," from other sources.

The legislation established a market-based nutrient trading program whereby treatment plants could acquire offsets from other treatment plants or from "nonpoint sources," such as farms or development pollution reduction projects.

Due in large part to missed efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay by 2010, said the release, the Environmental Protection Agency will establish a Total Maximum Daily Load (or TMDL) this December specifying the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution reductions needed to restore the bay by 2025. The TMDL will require Virginia to establish new cleanup plans detailing both how existing pollution will be reduced and how new pollution will be prevented.

According to the press release, HB1135 has three important benefits:

—It provides equity through uniform pollution offset requirements by calling for pollution offsets for all but the very smallest wastewater treatment plants;

—It provides relief to local governments. Under the new bay cleanup plan it is likely that local watersheds will have to do more to reduce the pollution they contribute to the bay. Small wastewater treatment plants can contribute a significant portion of the pollution in smaller, more rural regions. Without this legislation, the responsibility to remediate this additional pollution would ultimately fall on localities and their taxpayers, and;

—It protects local waters. Smaller plants will now discharge less pollution and/or offset their pollution by funding pollution reduction efforts at other plants, on farms or urban areas in the region.