- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — States within the Chesapeake Bay watershed are making inroads upgrading sewage plants and reducing farm runoff, but suburban sprawl is undermining the restoration of the Bay, a federal report concludes.

As a result, 2010 Bay cleanup goals probably won’t be reached until 2028.

“New development is increasing nutrient and sediment loads at rates faster than restoration efforts are reducing them,” the report reads.

“I don’t dispute that,” said L. Preston Bryant Jr., Virginia’s secretary of natural resources.

The report is from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of the Inspector General. It found that development generally isn’t the problem, but the type of development — sprawling networks of streets, neighborhoods and shopping centers — is.

The Bay cleanup effort began in 1987, when state and federal governments promised the estuary would be clean by 2000. When that deadline passed, the leaders of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District and the EPA reached an even more sweeping agreement. They pledged to fix the Bay’s water, its oyster population, its underwater grasses and other environmental indicators by 2010.

But to make that deadline, hundreds of sewage plants would need to be upgraded so that they release less pollution. The cost is estimated at $6 billion, and officials say the upgrades are so complicated they will take years to plan and carry out.

In the 1990s, population in the entire Bay watershed — an area that encompasses parts of six states — grew by 8 percent.

Impervious surfaces — parking lots, roads and roofs that do nothing to soak up pollution — increased by 41 percent.

The inspector general’s report said that while development creates about one-third of Bay runoff, correcting the situation could require two-thirds of all restoration costs.

The report suggests that the EPA take more of a leadership role in creating new development standards.

Mr. Bryant noted that Virginia’s population could well reach 8 million by 2010. In 1960, the state’s population was closer to 4 million. Most of that population doubling in a half-century occurred in the part of the state that drains into the Chesapeake.

While Mr. Bryant said he doesn’t dispute the premise of the report, he hopes it doesn’t draw attention from the more recent focus on controlling agricultural runoff.

“As great a problem as growth and development in terms of water quality, [agricultural] runoff remains a huge part of the problem,” Mr. Bryant said.

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