Conservation Groups Oppose DC Sewer Authority's Court Challenge to Pollution Limits

Blue Plains operators balk at pollution limits, conservation groups intervene to protect D.C. waters and Chesapeake Bay


Jennifer Chavez/Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500


Operators of the Chesapeake region’s largest sewage treatment facility, the District’s Blue Plains Wastewater plant, have filed a federal court challenge to pollution limits imposed on it by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmental groups today moved to intervene to oppose the court challenge — brought last month by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) — arguing that the clean water protections must remain in place to protect DC waters and Chesapeake Bay. The nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice is representing Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club in the case.

“Everyone in the region is looking to Blue Plains to do its part to restore the Chesapeake Bay — after all, it is the single largest source of nutrient pollution draining into the bay,” said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez. “Sadly, WASA’s suit threatens to delay cleanup of the Potomac River and the bay — to the detriment of everyone in this region.”

The Blue Plains limits challenged by WASA reflect a cleanup agreement reached by a coalition of five Bay states.

In the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, signed by EPA, Bay states, and the District of Columbia, each party agreed to abide by set limits for the nitrogen pollution found in wastewater which feeds the bay’s harmful algae blooms and creates ‘dead zones’ where marine life is unable to survive. Among other things, the District agreed to a 4.6 million pound annual limit for nitrogen. But operators of the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant are now challenging a permit that gives legal effect to that limit.

“It’s time for the DC Water and Sewer Authority to stop looking backwards and give up on their appeal for the right to pollute,” said Chris Weiss, DC Program Director of Friends of the Earth. “Current protections need to be upheld.”

The sheer size of the Blue Plains’ operations has made it crucial to the success of the Chesapeake cleanup plan. Each day, the Blue Plains facility discharges more than 300 million gallons of treated wastewater into the Potomac River which drains into the Bay. The plant serves more than 2 million customers in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, and is the nation’s largest advanced wastewater treatment plant. Blue Plains is also the Chesapeake Bay’s single largest point source of nutrient pollution.

Officials say that upgrades made at Blue Plains are comparable to improving all of Maryland’s 86 significant plants, or Virginia’s 124.

Read the suit (PDF) 

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