Rehoboth asked by county to buy unused outfall capacity

City commissioners set to discuss proposal during Nov. 4 special meeting
October 29, 2021

Story Location:
Rehoboth Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant
2 Bay Road
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
United States

Sussex County officials are looking to accommodate the growing wastewater demands of the Cape Region’s growing population by tapping into the unused discharge capacity of Rehoboth Beach’s ocean outfall.

Rehoboth Beach announced Oct. 27 that a special commissioner meeting will be held Thursday, Nov. 4, for the purpose of discussing a request from the county to purchase a portion of the permitted waste load allocation associated with the city’s ocean outfall capacity.

In a prepared statement announcing the meeting, Mayor Stan Mills said the city’s priorities are to protect the beach and ocean, and to provide services to residents in a fiscally responsible manner. 

“It appears that the county’s proposal will not impact the quality of water being released into the ocean and that this partnership could bring a good deal of financial benefit to our wastewater customers. This is a proposal worth exploring, and the commissioners and I are eager to hear from our residents,” said Mills in his statement.

The city’s wastewater treatment plant has been pumping its treated effluent into the ocean since May 2018. Originating from a connection point near Deauville Beach, the pipe runs more than 6,000 feet out into the ocean, at a depth of 40 to 50 feet below the surface of the water. The end of the pipe is a giant diffuser with tentacles that spread the water in many directions. The county is already adding to the effluent coming from the outfall – there’s an agreement in place for the county to use up to 42 percent of the treatment plant’s capacity.

When the outfall began operation, City Manager Sharon Lynn said the project doubled the plant’s flow capacity from 3.5 million gallons per day to 7 million gallons per day. She also said that midwinter, there could be less than 2 million gallons per day.

Officials from the city and county declined to give specifics on the proposal beyond what the city’s press release contained. The city also declined to provide current peak/non-peak rates for effluent discharge.

In an email Oct. 27, Chip Guy, Sussex County spokesman, said, the proposal will be discussed in detail during the meeting.

“It would not be appropriate at this juncture to discuss in advance the specifics, as the special meeting will be the first opportunity for city officials and public to hear the county's full proposal,” said Guy.

It’s not exactly clear what city officials know, but it appears they know something. Commissioners conducted a special meeting Oct. 26, during which an executive session was conducted. Prior to going into executive session, Mayor Stan Mills said GHD, the city’s consultant on all things ocean outfall, was present. Following the executive session, commissioners only voted to adjourn.

The following day, in an email, Mills said, “GHD was in town to prep for a future meeting agenda topic which will be disclosed later this week.” A couple of hours later the agenda was posted for the Nov. 4 meeting.

The proposal is expected to be discussed further at the commissioners’ workshop at 9 a.m., Monday, Nov. 8.

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