Removing Rehoboth’s Wastewater Discharge Will Help Restore Rehoboth Bay

Letter to the Editor: 

On January 5th, DNREC Secretary David Small, decided to allow the City of Rehoboth Beach to move forward with plans to remove the City’s wastewater treatment plant discharge from Rehoboth Bay.  For decades, the wastewater has degraded this ecologically sensitive estuary.  

Nutrients in the wastewater have contributed to murky waters, loss of sea grasses, blooms of algae and seaweed, and dissolved oxygen levels that are unhealthy for fish.  Though the wastewater from the plant is treated, Rehoboth Bay is extremely sensitive to even small amounts of nutrient pollution.  This is because Rehoboth Bay is, by its nature, slowly flushed by the ocean.  Once pollutants get in the Bay, they remain there for a long time.

Removing this discharge will instantly stop an astonishing 17,000 pounds of nitrogen pollution from being pumped directly into the Bay every year.  It will also stop the contribution of over 1,000 pounds of phosphorus each year.  This amount of phosphorus is equal to over 30% of the annual phosphorus load to the Bay.  The removal of the discharge will have immediate and significant positive benefits to the water and all the people and creatures that rely on it.  This will be the last of 13 original point sources of nutrient pollution to be removed from the Inland Bays by a regulation passed in 1998.    

After an environmental analysis, the City and DNREC have decided to now discharge the treated wastewater a mile offshore in the ocean.  A discharge to the ocean will quickly be diluted, and the science has demonstrated little if any expected impact to aquatic life there.  Computer modelling in the analysis estimated that the discharge will be diluted 100:1 within a few hundred feet of the outfall in under 6 minutes.  Another ocean outfall off Bethany Beach has operated successfully since 1977.  

This decision could not have been an easy one for Secretary Small and he inherited a great deal of delay in making it.  A number of ideas for land-based disposal alternatives were promoted over the years of inaction.  However, little affordable land was available for disposal and land-based disposal would continue to contribute nutrients through the groundwater to already polluted estuaries.    

In making the decision, DNREC has required the City of Rehoboth Beach to study its stormwater system for risks that may be posed to swimmers on the beach.  This addresses a significant water quality concern for swimmers at the beach, which is the stormwater runoff coming from the city streets.  All of our waters mean the world to me; and as a scientist, surfer, and fisherman I’m confident that this was the right decision for this particular situation.

Chris Bason
Executive Director
Delaware Center for the Inland Bay