Inland Bays PCS signed into law

Closing in on the end of her term of office, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner signed into affect Delaware’s Pollution Control Strategy on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Center for Inland Bays.

The process to come up with the Pollution Control Strategy has been a long one — lasting a full decade. The Tributary Action Team — made up of representatives from local government and businesses, environmentalists, farmers and residents — gathered information during seven public forums and had the goal of reducing the area’s nutrient loading in order to achieve better water quality for the Inland Bays and their tributaries.

“After 10 years if waiting, the pieces came together with rapidity and an implosion of activity,” said Secretary John Hughes of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

“I didn’t want to leave it behind on my desk on the way out the door,” he added. “You inspired us to do it, and without the support we wouldn’t have made it.”

The PCS outlines 19 regulatory and 28 voluntary actions to combat these sources of inland bays pollution.

Highlights include:

• Buffers along primary and secondary water features must be established as land is developed. Buffers are not required on existing developed lands or lands being used for agriculture. Buffers must be 100 feet wide on primary waters and 60 feet wide on secondary waters. Buffer width can be reduced if combined with other pollution reduction actions. Buffers in larger communities will exist in community open space and will be managed by homeowners’ associations.

• Regulation of onsite wastewater treatment and disposal systems — permanent holding tanks will not be permitted within the watershed; all properties sold will have septic systems pumped out prior to completion of sale; all new and replacement systems must be designed to achieve performance as specified in the PCS regulations; with hardship assistance provided for those that might need it.

• When land is developed, stormwater plans must include criteria to manage stormwater for nutrients. Developers can accomplish this using one of several methods. If water features are present: Establish a 100-foot buffer on primary waters and a 60-foot buffer on secondary waters; Establish a 50-foot buffer on primary waters and a 30-foot buffer on secondary waters in combination with other pollution reduction actions.

Effective dates of the regulations vary from immediately up to 180 days, with all new and replacement septic systems (less than or equal to 2,500 gallon per day) being required to comply by Jan. 1, 2015.

Minner echoed Hughes’ sentiments.

“At this year’s Wade-In, I said I’d like to see the PCS signed before I left office,” she said. “We barely made it, but…”

She said that, although the process has taken 10 years, it really goes back to 1969, when studies started to look at ways to preserve the Inland Bays. She added that it “wasn’t done overnight.”

Although at a public hearing this summer in Rehoboth Beach, DNREC was mostly commended for the PCS, residents did raise concerns over whether DNREC had the authority to promulgate such regulations. Hughes assured them he they had been in contact with the state’s Attorney General and did, in fact, have that authority.

At a second hearing in Georgetown, many questions were raised regarding the septic tank regulations and the costs involved for homeowners in eliminating them. Minner referenced that in her speech.

“Thank you again to the Tributary Action Committee. It’s important that we have regulations. And it’s important that people can live with them. But at the same time we have to protect the bays. That’s what ‘Liveable Delaware’ is all about.”

Hughes said he expects that the regulations will probably be contested and there will be battles ahead.

“The first step is to adopt the regulations. In the words of The Grateful Dead, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been.’ Did I get that right?”

“You try to please everyone, and it can’t be done,” he continued. “This PCS is controversial. It will invoke passion. But the Center for Inland Bays and DNREC together, and the elected officials, will see us through. Is it perfect? No. Nothing’s perfect. We could tinker with it another 10 years and add about 1 percent of efficacy. You never get anywhere if you stand still and try for absolute perfection. Stay with us for the battle ahead. We have 41 more watersheds.”

To read the Pollution Control Strategy, visit online.