Wastewater treatment plant takes step forward in keeping Chesapeake Bay healthy

WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest wastewater treatment plant, Blue Plains, in Southwest D.C. is doing something lifesaving for blue crabs, oysters and other aquatic life in the nation’s largest estuary — the Chesapeake Bay.

It has sharply reduced the amount of dangerous nutrients that rob the bay of oxygen.

“DC Water, in cooperation with Maryland, Virginia and the D.C. Government, have taken giant size actions to reduce pollution here,” said Shawn Garvin, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, standing atop Blue Plains’ advanced nutrient removal filters.

The EPA says the wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay area, led by Blue Plains, have reduced their discharge of nitrogen into the bay by 57 percent and phosphorus by 75 percent. The target reductions in pollution have been reached a decade ahead of schedule.

“Ten years ahead, 10 years ahead of the goals set, which when we set them seemed pretty steep, yet out industry has been able to meet that goal,” said George Hawkins, CEO of DC Water and the head the Blue Plains plant.

Although Blue Plains is operated by DC Water, 60 percent of the flow of waste into the plant is from Maryland and Virginia.

The reductions in pollution from waste water plants are significant and have made the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay cleaner.

“Today, the best bass fishing in all of the Potomac River is from our outfall south,” Hawkins said.

Since 2010, wastewater plants including Blue Plains have cut nitrogen levels from 52 million pounds to 38 million pounds a year.

“Human beings decided there’s an issue that deserves to be responded to and they’ve achieved the goal. It’s really a victory for human ingenuity and effort,” Hawkins said.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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