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CBF Fact Sheet

Reducing Nitrogen and Phosphorus Pollution from Wastewater Treatment Facilities 

Largely because of pollution from excess nitrogen and phosphorus, the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers remain on the Clean Water Act list of impaired waters. The Chesapeake 2000 Agreement--signed by Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and the Environmental Protection Agency--commits to taking actions necessary to removing the Bay and its tidal tributaries from the list by 2010. To do so, the EPA has calculated that nitrogen and phosphorus discharges from all sources must be drastically reduced beyond current levels and that municipal wastewater treatment plants, in particular, will have to reduce nitrogen discharges by 72 percent. By upgrading the watershed's major wastewater treatment facilities with Nutrient Removal Technology (NRT), we can meet this reduction. 

Chesapeake Bay Foundation's position:

  • All major Chesapeake Bay watershed wastewater treatment facilities should be upgraded to reduce nitrogen to an annual average of no greater than 3 mg./liter. Many plants should achieve phosphorus levels of 075mg./liter.

  • The Bay watershed has 288 major wastewater treatment plants (above 500,000 gallons/day): Pennsylvania (124), Maryland (62), Virginia (70), New York (18), Delaware (3), Washington DC (2), West Virginia (9). The Potomac, Susquehanna, and James Rivers rank first, second, and third, respectively, in pounds of nitrogen discharged.

  • To meet 2010 goals, annual nitrogen discharges into the Bay must be reduced by at least 150 million pounds from the current 300 million pounds. 

  • Currently, wastewater treatment plants contribute 61 million pounds of nitrogen per year to the Bay.

  • NRT technology can reduce nitrogen levels down to 3.0 mg/liter and phosphorus to .075mg./liter. Using this technology, New York and Connecticut have set 5.5 mg/liter TN as an average target for many plants discharging into Long Island Sound--an estuary with nitrogen pollution problems similar to the Chesapeake Bay.

  • Upgrading the major wastewater treatment plants to achieve nitrogen reductions of 3 mg/liter would remove 42 million pounds of nitrogen in the Bay each year or 31 percent of the total nitrogen reductions needed to meet 2010 goals.

  • Only 70 plants (less than one quarter) in the watershed have been upgraded and most remove nitrogen only to a concentration of 8.0 mg/liter.

  • The cost estimate for upgrades is approximately $4.4 billion over ten years for capital improvements.

  • These upgrades will likely offset a significant portion of the capital expenses by reducing operating and maintenance costs. BNR provides cost savings of 20 to 30 percent in energy, more than 50 percent in chemical usage, and 5 to15 percent in amount of sludge produced.

Revised 07/02

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