U.S. Water News Online
RICHMOND, Va. -- By tapping into unused waste-treatment
capacities, Virginia could clean the Chesapeake Bay for less than
half the $1.2 billion it had estimated it would cost to rid the bay
of pollution by 2010, according to a report.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said a report from an expert in
nutrient removal technologies at Virginia Tech provides a plan for
meeting the deadline and shows that state and industry officials have
inflated cleanup costs.
Clifford W. Randall's study, paid for by the CBF, said "fairly
minor upgrades'' and creative funding such as a "flush tax'' similar
to one enacted in Maryland could lead to cheaper and faster means of
cutting the amount of nutrients released at Virginia's
sewage-treatment plants, the source of about one-third of the state's
pollution to waterways.
In April, the Virginia Department of Natural Resources said bay
funding had not yet been provided by the General Assembly.
Environmentalists said the state was backing away from addressing a
2000 agreement among five states and the District of Columbia to
reduce sediments and nutrients that drain into the bay, encouraging
aquatic plant growth and choking sea life. Last year, a dead zone of
about 250 square miles was found in the bay, created by low oxygen
that killed aquatic life.
"We're all part of the problem. We all need to be part of the
solution,'' said Roy A. Hoagland, the foundation's executive
director. "For less than the cost of a weekly lottery ticket per
household, we can clean up Virginia's sewage-treatment plants.''
The Maryland legislature enacted a bill this year imposing fees of
$2.50 monthly fee on sewer bills and $30 annually for owners of
septic systems to establish the Atlantic Coastal Bays Restoration
CBF's top priority in the 2005 Virginia General Assembly session
will be to create a fee similar to Maryland's flush tax.
According to Randall, tapping into a sewage plant's excess
treatment capacity would allow the facilities to use nearly 40
percent of the plant that's currently out of service. The upgrade, he
said, would cost $120 million. That's about the same figure the state
has purportedly spent over seven years through the Virginia Water
Quality Improvement Fund that has already been made available to
plants statewide for seven years.
Because most plants are purposely over-designed, made larger in
case of future population surges, this strategy would see immediate
results because only about 60 percent is ever used, Randall said.
It's also the chief reason why industry officials -- fearing the
plant would be unprepared for a population upswing -- oppose such a
Incentives such as a user tax would be necessary, Randall said. In
that scenario, the tax would accumulate into a special fund
guaranteeing future plant modifications.
Another example is that treatment plants have historically
overestimated the costs and time it would take to implement
Such was the case in New York, where the courts mandated that the
city reduce the amounts of nitrogen discharged, affecting 11
Initial costs had put the project at $14.2 billion, which had
assumed each plant would need to process its own sludge. Instead,
officials decided to centralize the sludge's process and treatment.
That move alone, Randall said, made the actual cost $1.4 billion.
Using other technology, the city further reduced the expense by 96%.
Randall said such a tactic could work in Virginia, where Hampton
Roads, Richmond, Washington D.C., and other areas with nearby plants
could be centralized.
Present at the media briefing was W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., state
secretary of Natural Resources. Last month, Murphy told state workers
that Virginia -- or, namely his agency -- was committed to keeping
its commitments to the Chesapeake 2000 agreement.
"We must either pursue their implementation aggressively, or admit
up front that we have no intention of meeting them,'' he said.
Critics, however, were immediately critical of the plan, which
they said does not explain how the improvements would be financed or
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