Water Quality
August 23 2016

Clean Water Violations in Delaware

by John Weber

Accidents happen. It is one of the many reasons we don’t like things being built in or near the ocean if they don’t need to be. Such is the case with a pipe leading from a sewage treatment plant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The accident showed up in the Rehoboth Lewes Canal - which leads into Rehoboth Bay. Brown murky water and solids were spotted by a recreational user and reported to authorities. Can you imagine if this pipe discharged into the ocean? Unfortunately that’s the plan.

A major campaign of the Delaware Chapter for the last seven years has been to stop the proposed Ocean Outfall Pipe in Rehoboth Beach. The proposal was to take the treated effluent from the Rehoboth Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant that currently goes into the Canal and to put this pipe into the ocean instead. Of course Surfrider Foundation was against it. 

The Surfrider Foundation supported the idea of recycling or reusing this water, rather than discharging into the Lewes Canal and into Rehoboth Bay. With the abundant farmland nearby, recycling the water in spray irrigation or land application as it is called is actually the preferred method of wastewater disposal in this part of Delaware according to their Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). The Delaware Farm Bureau and local water utilities joined the Chapter in opposing the pipe for this reason.

Placing an outfall pipe into the ocean, one mile from shore next to a city that is completely dependent on tourism in the summer did not seems like a good idea either. This is why the Rehoboth Beach Chamber of Commerce spoke out against the ocean outfall pipe plan as well. There are other issues of endangered species, marine mammals, and essential fish habitat, which brought other environmental groups into the fight – all of which were brought up in the campaign against this pipe.

Despite Surfrider’s efforts to stop the outfall pipe, it  was approved and voters approved the borrowing to pay for the ocean outfall pipe. But now, one year later, the treatment plant has received a notice of violation for not meeting the standards of their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, NPDES permit. The contents of that violation letter from the State to the treatment plant (with pictures!) can be seen here.

What comes out of the pipe, wherever it goes, is supposed to be treated water - not drinkable but not raw sewage either. Raw sewage has been coming out of those pipes since July, 2016.

Construction has not yet begun on the new pipe, which still needs permits at many levels of government. Delaware Chapter activist Gregg Rosner will lead the chapter in petitioning the DNREC Secretary to levy fines on the plant. At the very least the chapter will leverage this event as evidence against the permits needed for the new pipe.