State should partner with Rehoboth on wastewater plan

December 2, 2013

For more than a decade, Rehoboth Beach has been working on a plan to get treated wastewater out of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, as required by the federal Clean Water Act. The end-of-2014 deadline is now approaching.

A year ago, the city submitted to the state an environmental impact statement outlining its two basic options: Dispose of wastewater on land – by spray irrigation, rapid infiltra­tion basins, or deep well injection – or build a wastewater outfall pipe and dump the effluent a mile out into the ocean. Based on cost, the choice is simple: Ocean outfall costs about half of any land-based alternative.

Surprisingly, several scientists also testi­fied that effluent disposed of on land could eventually deposit pollutants into the Inland Bays, violating the Clean Water Act. When deposited a mile offshore, those pollutants, nitrogen and phosphorus, are diluted enough to be harmless.

In the end, Rehoboth chose ocean outfall.

The statement explaining that choice has now been sitting on the desk of Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Con­trol Secretary Collin O’Mara for nearly a year.

Even before getting the report, O’Mara was concerned about dumping wastewater off Delaware’s most popular resort, concerns echoed in objections to the report offered by the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation.

Both sharply criticized studies it contains for failing to consider harms caused by contami­nants such as heavy metals and pharmaceu­ticals. Disposing of wastewater is a problem that will only get worse as the population of the Cape Region increases.

At the same time, Rehoboth and its Boardwalk and outlets are a key destination that anchors Delaware tour­ism.

The difference in cost between land appli­cation and ocean outfall is large for Rehoboth Beach homeowners, but it’s a drop in the bucket, not to say ocean, for the state.

It’s time to get wastewater out of the bays, but no one really wants to dump it in the ocean.

State officials must partner with Rehoboth to upgrade the treatment plant and pay for the most environmentally friendly and cost-effec­tive land application. This is not a Rehoboth issue. It’s a statewide issue that demands statewide resources.

  • Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Laura Ritter, news editor; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; and Nick Roth, sports editor.

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