Shawn M. Garvin
It’s been 50 years since Congress enacted landmark environmental legislation – the Clean Water Act of 1972. This bill was passed in response to the dilapidated conditions of our nation’s waterways resulting from decades of irresponsible waste management. municipal, industrial and agricultural.
We have come a long way since passing this historic and far-reaching environmental legislation. As a direct result of the CWA, numerous programs have been developed within the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control designed to monitor, assess, improve and protect the health of Delaware’s waters – our most precious natural resource.
Prior to the CWA, sewage discharges into Delaware’s surface waters were largely unsanctioned and unmonitored. However, through the establishment of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program, the CWA has established the legislative framework to enact point-source pollution controls and reduce pollutant discharges into Delaware’s surface waters and from all over the country. Thanks to stringent pollution abatement requirements and other permit restrictions, point source releases have declined in Delaware from nearly 200 facilities when the Delaware program launched to just 39 industrial and municipal releases. , 16 of which are rainwater only.
The work is not finished, but building on previous successes, the NPDES program continues to expand protection in other areas such as municipal storm water control, livestock operations, waste water stormwater and the application of aquatic pesticides.
Nonpoint source pollution, polluted stormwater runoff associated with precipitation, snowmelt, or irrigation moving over and through the ground, also threatens Delaware’s environment and public health. As this water travels, it picks up and carries pollutants with it, eventually reaching water bodies and groundwater. Unfortunately, unlike point source pollution, NPS pollution often cannot be traced to a single source and sometimes it cannot be traced at all. Often, this type of pollution is associated with a variety of on-the-ground activities, including agriculture, construction runoff, and shoreline degradation.
Amendments to the CWA established the NPS stewardship program under Section 319 to address the need for greater federal leadership to help focus state and local NPS efforts. On August 4, 1988, Delaware’s original NPS Pollution Management Program was approved by the EPA, making it one of the first programs in the country to comply with CWA Section 319. Delaware has been a leader in the fight against NPS pollution ever since.
Some tools used in the state are regulatory; however, the vast majority are voluntary programs that have resulted in real improvements in water quality. A long-standing example is Delaware’s cover crop program where farmers are encouraged to plant crops during the winter to slow erosion and absorb nutrients and, more recently, the Tree for Every Delawarean initiative, which helps plant trees statewide to improve air and water quality. .
Collectively, these efforts have resulted in significant improvements in water quality, as identified by the Department’s Water Quality Assessment Program. This program monitors water quality at more than 140 water quality stations statewide and regularly samples a range of 31 physical, chemical, and biological parameters to ensure Delaware waters meet quality standards. water for the protection of aquatic life and human health.
Over the past few decades, monitoring results show declining levels of pollutants in water bodies across the state. Examples of these successful efforts are: the removal of former industrial sources of zinc from Red Clay Creek; eliminating the impacts of point source pollution flowing into inland bays, the newest and largest being the Rehoboth sewage treatment plant in 2018; the use of innovative technologies such as the dispersal of activated carbon pellets throughout the body of water to significantly reduce contaminant levels in sediment and fish tissue at Mirror Lake (Dover); and declining levels of toxic contaminants in fish tissue in sampled water bodies across the state. The challenges are many as new and emerging contaminants such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as PFAS – are discovered, and DNREC staff will continue to assess and protect Delaware waters.
While many challenges have been resolved and many successes can be shared, all attributed to the passage of groundbreaking CWA legislation, DNREC will not cease its commitment to protecting and improving Delaware’s waters. As we face the challenges of climate change and uplifting overstretched communities, we will continue this journey with our trusted nonprofit partners, the General Assembly and all levels of government implementing the Initiative to clean water for underserved communities and the Delaware Clean Water Trust and investing millions of dollars to protect Delaware’s most precious resource.
Shawn M. Garvin is secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.