2nd group joins effort to stem sewage in bay

Alliance urges adoption of technology in all plants

December 05, 2003|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

A second major Chesapeake Bay advocacy group has joined the effort to persuade state and federal governments to require strict nutrient pollution limits on sewage treatment plants.

In a 25-page report released yesterday, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay argued that it would cost at most a nickel a day for each of the 13 million residents of the watershed to install the latest nutrient reduction technology in all sewage plants.

It also said that the watershed states must move more quickly to persuade or require farmers to limit nutrient runoff from their fields.

"The technology is here today, and it's affordable," said David Bancroft, executive director of the alliance. "Five cents a day will bring back the bay. Let's set that as a goal."

But the alliance's report -- issued on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the first Chesapeake Agreement -- sharply disagreed on one major issue with the bay's other large advocacy organization, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The foundation wants to change the management of the existing program, which relies on voluntary cooperation among the federal government and watershed states. Instead, it seeks tougher government regulations. The alliance wants to keep the existing system.

"Some have suggested that Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts need to adopt a more regulatory structure, but this is not consistent with the history of consensus-based decision-making in the region and would take five to 20 years to institute," the report said.

"The teamwork approach to exercising regulatory functions under this blended or `voluntary-regulatory' program, if emphasized and continued, has the potential to result in more rapid adoption of new water quality standards and implementation of regulatory requirements watershed-wide."

The alliance is a 33-year-old nonprofit with offices across the 64,000-mile watershed. Much of its funding comes from federal and state grants.

The report -- "Chesapeake 2004: A Blueprint for Success" -- says that government leaders in the bay region need to step forward next week when they meet at George Mason University in Virginia to mark the bay agreement anniversary.

"There are two choices before us now: litigation or leadership. We're calling for leadership," Bancroft said.

The governors of Maryland and Virginia said this week that they want to reduce nutrient pollution from sewage treatment plants -- a factor in depleting the bay's supply of oxygen. They promised to work on it next week when they meet.

This fall, the bay foundation has been loudly demanding that states begin requiring strict limits on nutrient pollution from sewage treatment plants. This week, the foundation filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking the federal government to impose those strict limits on the bay states -- and threatened a possible lawsuit if the agency rejects the petition.

The alliance has not expressed support for the foundation's petition, saying that cooperation is already moving the states toward such restrictions by the end of the decade.

"Permits are clearly necessary," said William Matuszeski, retired head of the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program and a member of the alliance board. "But if we go to court, we'll end up spending five years in front of judges instead of improving water quality."

Donald F. Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, praised the report's demand for immediate action.

"I particularly like the fact that they emphasize the need to get on with it now, not just with sewage treatment, but with the agricultural community," Boesch said. "Unless you deal with both, you won't get there."

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