CONTACT: Michael Globetti, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902
DNREC moves City of Rehoboth Beach wastewater disposal
financing forward and agrees to new discharge removal deadline
DOVER (Jan. 5, 2015) – DNREC Secretary David Small has signed a Record of Decision (ROD) concurring with an assessment by the City of Rehoboth Beach that an ocean outfall is the most environmentally and financially responsible alternative to the City’s current discharge of treated wastewater into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. Secretary Small’s decision allows Rehoboth Beach to proceed with its request to borrow an estimated $25 million from the State’s Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund and to move forward with plans to eliminate the largest single wastewater discharge to Delaware’s Inland Bays – which would have immediate beneficial impact on the water quality of one of the state’s most cherished natural resources.
The decision brings to a close nearly 10 years of extensive studies and analyses, reports, public meetings, hearings, and public input, and moves the wastewater disposal project to the next phase of financing, permitting, final design and construction. The decision also includes a requirement that the City of Rehoboth Beach evaluate its current stormwater collection system that discharges to the ocean and identify improvements and associated costs that could reduce potential impacts to swimmers, surfers and other recreational users. The study must be completed by January 1, 2016. Concurrent with the decision, Rehoboth Beach and DNREC have also executed an amended Consent Order for consideration by Sussex County Superior Court that would require elimination of the current discharge to the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal by June 1, 2018. The current order would have required the elimination of the Canal discharge by December 31, 2014.
“Delaware’s Inland Bays are incredible ecological and recreational assets that have suffered for generations from too many nutrients,” said DNREC Sec. Small in signing the Record of Decision for Rehoboth Beach . “We have made progress in reducing these impacts from agriculture, septic systems and wastewater treatment plants; however, our waters remain impaired and do not meet standards to protect aquatic plants, fish and shellfish and, in many locations, are unsafe for swimming. This decision will help complete our goal of systematically eliminating all wastewater treatment plant discharges to these special waterways.”
Rehoboth’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) submitted to DNREC evaluated a number of alternatives for disposal that involved land application of treated wastewater, including the use of public and private lands. Although the Department generally prefers land application over discharges to surface waters, the lack of agricultural lands in reasonable proximity to the City, lack of interest among landowners for partnering with the City, challenges in coordinating operations of treatment systems between the County and City, and environmental considerations and costs – all led to the conclusion that an ocean outfall was the preferred alternative.
Specifically, the ocean outfall is the only alternative that assures 100 percent of nutrients from the Rehoboth treatment plant are eliminated from the Inland Bays watershed. Any land application alternative – including constructed artificial wetlands, would result in wastewater discharges to either ground or surface waters, continuing to add nutrients to the Inland Bays. Likewise, locating a treatment facility in the adjacent Broadkill River watershed would also continue to add nutrients to a system already impaired by nitrogen and phosphorous.
An evaluation of costs to users was also required under the EIS. The estimated annual user charge for the ocean outfall is $635 annually, while the lowest cost land application system – assuming it could be constructed – was estimated at $1,010, which is nearly double the average amount paid by users in Sussex County.
As part of Delaware’s Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund procedures, Rehoboth Beach was required to prepare the Environmental Impact Statement. The EIS identified potential wastewater treatment and disposal options and then explored the regulatory, technological, and financial aspects of the various alternatives. The EIS concluded that utilizing the existing wastewater treatment plant to produce a high-quality effluent and disposing of the highly-treated effluent via an ocean outfall was the best alternative. Rehoboth’s outfall will discharge to the ocean, which according to computer modeling, will meet all water quality standards for dilution under all conditions. Sussex County’s South Coastal Regional Wastewater Facility has demonstrated, for more than 25 years, that this technology can be reliable, efficient and consistently meet water quality standards.
In December of 1998, DNREC, in conjunction with the US EPA and under the federal Clean Water Act, promulgated a Total Maximum Daily Load Regulation, which required the elimination of all point sources of nitrogen and phosphorus throughout the state and called for significant reductions of nonpoint source loads of nutrients as well. Excess levels of these nutrients cause algae blooms, and lead to low dissolved oxygen levels, fish kills, and the proliferation of algae that may be toxic to humans, fish, and other aquatic life.
The City appealed DNREC’s TMDL Regulation. The two parties negotiated a settlement agreement which was memorialized by a Consent Order approved by Superior Court in December, 2002, and amended in June, 2005. DNREC issued a new discharge permit in October, 2005, which required the City to significantly reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus being discharged into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal by October, 2007. Additionally, the permit called for the eventual elimination of the discharge by December 31, 2014, consistent with the Consent Order.
Due to the lengthy period of time expended in working through the numerous alternatives and related public input, DNREC and the City of Rehoboth also needed to reach accord on a new deadline for the elimination of the City’s discharge. That deadline has been set for June 1, 2018. The City and DNREC will be seeking Superior Court approval accordingly.
Vol. 45, No. 2