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Report: Efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay paying off

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A report released Dec. 6 by the Environmental Integrity Project said efforts already under way in West Virginia and other states have helped to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but authors say more work is needed.

The group, which goes by the initials EIP, said officials in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C., have made "some impressive gains" in reducing nitrogen pollution in the bay that comes from municipal and industrial sources, However it said states will have to impose tougher permitting requirements to achieve further results.

The Chesapeake Bay is the nation's largest estuary, with a watershed spanning 16,000 square miles and containing more than 10,000 rivers and streams. The clean-up plan for the bay involves pollution reduction efforts in six states and the District of Columbia.

The report released Dec. 6 focused on pollutants released from public sewage systems and industrial plants. EIP said those sources account for approximately 20 percent of the nitrogen and nearly a quarter of the phosphorus found in the bay. Those two pollutants are believed to cause algae growth, which impacts oxygen levels in the water and harms fish and other aquatic life.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted a bay clean-up plan that sets targets for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus from point sources based on "wasteload allocations."

In its report, EIP found that sewage treatment upgrades in Maryland and Virginia in 2011 helped to reduce nitrogen discharges into the bay watershed. However, the report said nitrogen loadings from sewage treatment plants and industrial sources in Pennsylvania increased 4 percent in 2011.

"At the same time, illegal discharges from  municipal and industrial sources in all states added nearly 800,000 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 2011, with more than 12 percent of the largest facilities being out of compliance with permit limits  for three months or longer," the report's authors said in a news release. 

EIP Attorney Tarah Heinzen said nutrient and sediment pollution has caused a severe decline in the water quality and fisheries of the estuary.  

"Restoration of the Chesapeake Bay is the nation's most ambitious regional water pollution clean-up plan ever," Heinzen said. "The early progress is encouraging, but we need to do more if we want to stay on track. Public sewage systems and industrial plants contribute a fifth of the nitrogen pollution entering the bay, and a fourth of the phosphorus, so addressing illegal discharges and poor data reporting at these plants is critical."

To read the full report, go to http://environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/12_06_2012.php.