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EPA Issues Permit for Blue Plains Treatment Facility

Release Date: 1/27/2003
Contact Information: Bonnie Smith, (215) 814-5543

Bonnie Smith, (215) 814-5543

PHILADELPHIA -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new discharge permit for the Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant and District of Columbia combined sewer collection system.

“With this permit, the EPA takes further steps to protect public health for residents of the district and continues ongoing efforts to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” said Donald S. Welsh, regional administrator for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.

As the world’s largest advanced wastewater treatment facility, Blue Plains serves the District of Columbia, Montgomery and Prince Georges counties in Maryland and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia. The facility covers 150 acres and has a design capacity to treat 370 million gallons of effluent per day. Its collection system includes about 1,800 miles of sanitary and combined sewers. The Blue Plains plant and D.C. sewer system are owned and operated by the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority. The new permit comes after a 60-day public comment period and updates the previous permit issued in 1997.

Under the new permit, Blue Plains must now use a biological nitrogen removal (BNR) process for the entire plant. BNR is a state-of-the-art process that uses bacteria to decompose the nitrogen in the wastewater before it is discharged. The previous permit only required a pilot BNR program for half of the plant. The BNR facility can remove up to eight million pounds of nitrogen annually that would otherwise flow into the Potomac, and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay.

The new permit also enhances the management and reduction of combined sewer overflows, which consist of an untreated mixture of sewage, rainwater and street litter. During heavy rainfalls, combined sewers discharge directly into Rock Creek, Anacostia and the Potomac rivers. The long term control plan -- which was developed by the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority – will reduce these overflows by installing temporary underground storage tanks to prevent the Blue Plains treatment plant from being overloaded.

Water pollution controls for the plant help reduce the amount of nitrogen carried into the Chesapeake Bay from district waters, including the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and Rock Creek. Excess nutrients are harmful to these waters and their fish and wildlife. They reduce the amount of oxygen, cloud the water, lead to the loss of viable underwater grasses, and decrease crucial natural habitats.