- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Sludge dumping in the Potomac River would be restricted severely under a new permit, but the federal government doesn't have to comply fully with the rules for nearly seven years.
The delay has drawn criticism from Capitol Hill and opponents of the practice by the Army Corps of Engineers, which routinely dumps tons of sludge at various points along the river including one spot over a spawning ground for an endangered species.
Jon Capacasa, acting director of the water protection division of the Environmental Protection Agency's mid-Atlantic region, said the Corps has assured the EPA that it will meet the new standard within five years, but could take as long as 6 years.
"The main concept is a staged compliance. They are operating a very critical drinking-water facility for Northern Virginia. They can't take the entire facility off line," Mr. Capacasa said.
The Washington Aqueduct, owned by the Corps, supplies water to 1 million residents in Virginia and the District. The new permit requires the Corps to have completed a treatment facility by 2010, but allows dumping with some restrictions in the interim.
"With this new permit, EPA has demonstrated its continued commitment to the environmental protection of the waterways that pass through our nation's capital," Donald S. Welsh, EPA's mid-Atlantic regional administrator, said in a statement.
Rep. George P. Radanovich, California Republican, called the permit "loophole-infested" and questioned why the Corps was told to use its "best professional judgment" in the quantity of sludge it dumps a practice that has been occurring for more than two decades.
"That's alarming given the fact that, for decades, the 'best professional judgment' at the Corps and EPA has been that sludge is good for fish, and dumping millions of pounds of it into a river every year is fine, too," Mr. Radanovich said, referring to a memo from the Corps to the EPA.
The EPA dumping permit expires in five years, nearly two years before the Corps must comply with the new rules. Such practice is common, Mr. Capacasa said.
The Corps will have to apply for a new permit by 2008, and critics fear the EPA again will extend the deadline on compliance with the new regulations. They said the Corps was allowed to dump sludge under an expired permit during the past 10 years.
"The EPA treats the Washington Aqueduct like France treats Iraq: They are absolutely unwilling to enforce meaningful compliance deadlines," said Rob Gordon, director of the National Wilderness Institute, a conservative environmental group suing the government to stop the dumps.
"Once again, they have put off solving this decades-old problem," Mr. Gordon said.
The permit takes effect in 30 days. It restricts dumps to 60 milligrams of sediment per liter, three times higher than the national average.
Many dumpings have contained 30,000 milligrams per liter, and some have been as high as 60,000 milligrams per liter, giving the sludge the appearance of crude oil, eyewitnesses say.
Among the provisions to take effect automatically with the permit are a prohibition on dumping from Feb. 15 to June 15, when fish are spawning and hatching, and a ban on any chlorine discharges. The Corps initially denied dumping chlorine.
"Along with the permit, EPA has proposed a compliance agreement that provides a timetable for the Washington Aqueduct to comply with the new effluent limitations while allowing the Corps of Engineers to continue to provide safe drinking water to customers," the EPA said in a statement.

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