The Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility in Washington, D.C., will discharge 3.8 million fewer pounds of nitrogen each year by 2015 as the result of a renewed operating permit issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The reissued permit will reduce by 45 percent the amount of nitrogen that the Blue Plains wastewater facility – the largest single point source of nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed – discharges to the Potomac River and the Bay.

“These reductions are critical to protecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay as well as the Potomac River,” said Shawn Garvin, the EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional administrator. “By significantly reducing nitrogen pollution from the Blue Plains plant, we’re taking a major step on the road to restoring the Bay for future generations.”

Nitrogen is a type of nutrient that contributes to cloudy, polluted waters in the Bay and its rivers. Excess nitrogen fuels the growth of dense algae blooms that rob fish, crabs, bay grasses and other Bay life of sunlight and oxygen.

Blue Plains is the largest advanced wastewater treatment facility in the world, treating wastewater for approximately 1.6 million people in Washington, D.C., Montgomery and Prince Georges counties in Maryland, and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia.

Under the permit renewal, DC Water will reduce nitrogen discharges from 8.5 million to 4.7 million pounds each year by upgrading the Blue Plains facility. Modifications are to be completed by July 2014 so that pollution reductions can be fully achieved in 2015.

This action is part of a larger effort by the EPA and the Bay states to control nitrogen and phosphorus discharges from more than 483 significant wastewater facilities across the Bay watershed. By 2015, most of these facilities will be upgraded to meet more stringent permits that will reduce an additional 11 million pounds of nitrogen and 100,000 pounds of phosphorus to the Bay.

During the past 25 years, Bay Program partners have made significant progress reducing nutrient pollution from wastewater facilities. Pollution from wastewater has dropped 55 percent since 1985.

  • Nitrogen from wastewater facilities has been reduced from 88 million pounds in 1985 to 48 million pounds in 2009, a 44 percent decrease.
  • Phosphorus has been reduced from 9 million pounds in 1985 to 3 million pounds in 2009, a 67 percent decrease.

In comparison, agricultural pollution has decreased 31 percent and pollution from cities and suburbs has increased 15 percent since 1985.

For more information about the Blue Plains upgrade, visit the EPA’s website.



Mimi Cooper

Back River Sewerage treatment plant was state of the art in early 20th century. It is based on decomposition by aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. When I visited in late '80's I felt quite at home as a naturalIst with system that works everywhere. The hitch is the thousands of chemicals that are in our sewerage systems that cannot be treated under this system. Remember sludge Md tried to send out of state? We must educate about environmental costs of "down the drain."
Thanks for your help

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