Wastewater Treatment Improvement Is A Step Closer Toward A Cleaner Chesapeake Bay

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Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A quarter billion dollars is serious money, and it’s being spent on a serious problem.

Alex DeMetrick reports it’s being poured into Baltimore’s Back River sewage treatment plant to slow the flow of nutrient pollution choking the bay.

What flows through Baltimore’s sewage lines as it enters the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant is not pretty. Here’s what flows out: water clean and safe enough to go back into the river.

But what isn’t being removed can’t be seen–nutrient pollution in the form of nitrogen and phosphorous. So, a quarter billion dollars is being spent to reduce that pollution.

“It’s a lot of money, but I think it’s great. I think it’s imperative we address the nutrient pollution we have here in Baltimore,” said Tina Meyers, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.

Nutrient pollution, especially nitrogen, feeds the algae that causes mahogany tides and the die-offs that can turn the harbor an unnatural green. Summer after summer:

“It all ties back to the fact there’s basically a dead zone in the harbor. There’s no oxygen in the water,” Meyers said.

And it isn’t just the harbor. This algae bloom hit the bay last month off Anne Arundel County. Sewage treatment plants are under state orders to make improvements.

“This upgrade is to reduce the nitrogen loading and phosphorous loading into the tributary,” said Rudolph Chow, Baltimore Department of Public Works.

The same sort of upgrade is already underway at the Patapsco Treatment Plant and 60 smaller Maryland plants. It will catch and convert nitrogen into a harmless gas.

The goal is a 90 percent nitrogen reduction.

Earlier improvements have already reduced the amount of phosphorous from Back River by 90 percent.

“The technology is definitely there,” Chow said.

And with more of it coming here, only passing clouds–not algae blooms–will darken the bay.

Baltimore City and Baltimore County are paying only a fraction of the quarter billion dollar price tag. Most of the money comes from Maryland’s flush tax.

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