As unromantic as they may be, however, modern waste treatment systems are incredibly effective at cleaning up our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Upgrades to the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C., for example, resulted in the rebound of a once-dead Potomac River –- with flourishing aquatic vegetation, birds, fish, and fishing tournaments.
Tragically, however, both the Obama Administration and the U.S. House are proposing to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to upgrade sewage plants. The environmental news publication E & E reported recently (Wednesday, May 22) that the Obama administration's proposed fiscal 2014 budget also would slice a combined $472 million from grants from the popular state water revolving funds and drinking water funds. The House is proposing even more draconian cuts.
Dan Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, accused the House of “attempting to overturn environmental safeguards by starving EPA of the funds essential to develop and enforce them," according to E & E.
With all the political debate about environmental regulation and EPA in recent years, two things are crystal clear: One is that rebuilding sewage treatment plants creates thousands of jobs for construction workers and engineers, and thus the EPA’s state water revolving funds are essentially economic improvement funds. And the second universal truth about these EPA-funded wastewater projects is that have a long term, dramatically positive impact on the environment, removing not only human waste from our rivers and streams, but also nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that cause fish-killing algal blooms.
It is never a good time to cut funds for clean water. But now is the worst possible time. The Chesapeake Bay region states are trying to get into gear to meet EPA pollution limits by following a science-based blueprint (link to CBF blueprint page) to clean up the estuary. The states must meet pollution-reduction targets every two years, with a final deadline of 2025.
Meeting these pollution limits will require (among other things) significant federal, state, and local investments to improve sewage treatment plants. So slashing federal funds for this now would undermine the last, best chance to save the Bay.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo at top of Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant by author)