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EPA Sets Pollution Limit for Bay

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By Sabri Ben-Achour

187 million pounds. That's how much nitrogen can safely be allowed into the bay, say scientists at the EPA. Last year, the bay got about 50 million pounds too much. Nitrogen, along with other nutrients, most notably phosphorous - flow into the bay and create giant corridors of dead water, low in oxygen, where fish and other creatures struggle to breath.

"It can come from different sources, it can come from ag, it can come from wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, air deposition. But there's only so much a bay can handle and still function as a safe water body meeting water quality standards," says Sean Garvin is the EPA administrator for our region.

Each state in the bay's watershed (Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York) and the District of Columbia now have individual pollution limits, and each will have to figure out how to stay under them.

Specifically, states will have to come up with "Watershed Implementation Plans" by September 1st.

These plans will include measures to reduce runoff from agriculture and stormwater, and may well mean a slate of new legislation affecting urban development and agriculture.

On Wednesday, a Senate committee released a bill sponsored by Maryland's Senator Bill Cardin to provide $2 billion in funding to help pay for runoff reduction, and to codify the EPA's Chesapeake goals into law. The bill is facing opposition from the American Farm Bureau, and it's not clear that it will pass.

By the end of September, EPA will announce the next step, something called the "Total Maximum Daily Load" for the Bay and each state. TMDLs, as they're known, are how much pollution can go into the bay on any given day, and waterways will be monitored to determine if states are meeting their goals.

The states will be expected to have most of their plans in place by 2017. The final deadline for Chesapeake Restoration is 2025.

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