Nitrogen discharges still hindering Chesapeake Bay water quality, research shows

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WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 10, 2014 -- According to researchers at the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution from industrial and municipal sources in the Chesapeake Bay have improved for some states but is progressing slowly for others.

The research indicates that nitrogen discharges from point sources dropped significantly in Virginia, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania between 2011 and 2012, while Maryland, Delaware and New York actually increased nitrogen pollution.

Unfortunately, progress has slowed due to illegal discharges continuing at a regular pace across the Bay watershed. Newly-compiled data from EIP for the entire year of 2012, serving as an update to its December 2012 report, examined 2011 nitrogen and phosphorus loadings from industrial and municipal facilities as a major source of Chesapeake Bay pollution. Likewise, despite efforts to reduce overall discharges in Bay states, significant violations added nearly 700,000 pounds of additional nitrogen to the Bay in 2012. 

The new data shows that Maryland has reversed its progress on nitrogen pollution from these facilities in 2012, increasing its loadings by more than 400,000 pounds. Virginia continued to show progress on its reductions throughout 2012, reducing nitrogen loadings from these sectors by more than 1 million pounds. Further, Pennsylvania went from increasing its municipal and industrial nitrogen loads by 4 percent between 2010 and 2011 to decreasing them by 16 percent in 2012. This encouraging trend will help the state meet the Bay water quality goals that begin to take effect in 2017.

The updated EIP report also focuses on large individual violators, which can offset regional gains with illegal discharges of nitrogen and phosphorus that can also impair local water quality. The report shows that 8 percent of these large industrial and municipal dischargers violated nitrogen-based permit limits for at least a quarter of 2012. And just 17 of these large dischargers (those whose violations exceeded 1,000 pounds of nitrogen) together released nearly 700,000 pounds of nitrogen above allowed levels into the Chesapeake Bay in 2012. 

There are, however, ongoing concerns that Bay states will require stronger permitting, monitoring and enforcement to meet their shared goal of a 25-percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by 2025. The states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculated that these reductions are the minimum necessary to restore the Bay's water quality and support healthy aquatic life and fisheries.

The EIP report applauds these continued efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution of the Bay to meet the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) -- a cleanup plan for the Bay.

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