After 27 Years, EPA Defines Pollution Limits for Chesapeake Bay “TMDL” (Anticipated Cost in Prince William: Perhaps $300-350 Million)
Chesapeake Bay water quality is impaired because water flowing off urban/suburban areas and farmland is carrying too much nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment downstream. The bay is not healthy; we have dramatically damaged the populations of blue crabs, oysters, striped bass…
The sediment smothers oysters and clouds the water, killing underwater grasses and reducing food/habitat for aquatic life. The nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) cause damage by triggering excessive growth of algae. When the algae finally decays underwater, oxygen is depleted and everything dies in “dead zones.”
The Chesapeake Bay can absorb some pollution, but we have overloaded its capacity to handle the three major pollutants. To solve the problem (and bring the bay into compliance with the Clean Water Act), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment that each state can send downstream to the bay.
The TMDL limits issued by EPA today establish a “pollution diet” that will require a 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, 24 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in sediment. In Prince William County, the main source of that pollution comes from stormwater than runs off our roads, parking lots, rooftops, and over-fertilized lawns.
According to Wetland Studies and Solutions, a local firm with expertise in stormwater management, Prince William County may have to spend roughly $20-25 million/year, perhaps $300-350 million over the next 15 years to implement Best Management Practices (BMP’s) that control excessive locally-generated stormwater pollution.
Current and future residents will pay a high price now for three decades of county officials who approved blast-the-landscape developments that destroyed small intermittent streams, damaged larger perennial streams, and replaced forests with pavement without requiring streamside buffers to minimize pollution running into our creeks.
In 2011, expect local/state officials to:
- claim it is an “unfunded mandate” for a Federal judge to require each city/county to clean up the excessive stormwater pollution (even though the pollution was created by urban/suburban development approved by officials in those political jurisdictions)
- demand that taxpayers from other parts of the US provide Federal subsidies to finance the BMP’s (which are required to correct the problems created by inappropriate developments that were approved by local/state officials)
- create fear, uncertainty, and doubt regarding the science used by EPA to determine how much pollution the bay can absorb
- claim sprawl, particularly developments such as Avendale, is not a problem… and push for higher taxes/fees/tolls/borrowing that will fund even more roads
Waaaaay back in 1983, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and EPA signed a Chesapeake Bay Agreement to meet Clean Water Act standards by the year 2000. We missed that deadline, and another one set for 2010. Voluntary measures did a lot of good, but failed to reduce pollution enough.
A Federal judge determined that 27 years of voluntary measures was enough, and finally ordered EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act. To reduce excessive pollution another 20-25%, Virginia has produced a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) identifying pollution control measures to be implemented by 2025.
Sometime after 2025, perhaps by 2050 (assuming everything is implemented and works as anticipated by EPA’s computer model), maybe the bay finally will meet water quality standards… assuming Prince William and other jurisdictions do more than whine, and actually correct the pollution that they generate.