News Feature | July 31, 2014

Wastewater Dumping Plan May Threaten Delaware Beaches

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A new plan for wastewater disposal could threaten Delaware beaches, which are known for being cleaner than other East Coast waterfronts. 

State and local officials are looking for a new place to send up to 3.4 million gallons of treated wastewater each day. That sewage is currently "pumped from Rehoboth Beach into a canal just off the polluted inland bays," the News Journal reported

The leading proposal is to "pump the waste about a mile into the ocean off of the north end of Rehoboth Beach, via a $30 million outfall pipe," the report said. That conclusion is based on "years of studies, court battles and debates."  

Clean water advocates are wary of the proposal.

"It's an idea that has environmental groups and some residents worried the government is simply trading one dirty water problem for another, hoping simple dilution will protect Delaware's ocean beaches from the inland bays' fate," the report said. 

Under current practices, Delaware beaches test well for cleanliness. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) ranked beaches on this question.

"At 4 percent, the eastern coastline comprised of beaches in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia boasts the lowest failure rate of beach water samples in the country," WTVR reported.  

Environmental attorney Jon Devine noted that sewage problems amount to a threat against tourism. 

"Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip," he said in a statement to CNN. "But no matter where you live, urban slobber and other pollution can seriously compromise the water quality at your favorite beach and make your family sick."

Wastewater is not the only threat to Delaware beaches. Stormwater is a problem, as well, according to John Doerfler, the vice chair of Delaware Surfrider Chapter, which advocates for clean beaches.

"Most folks do not know that the pipes that dot Rehoboth beach are, in fact, pipes directly linked to the storm drain system, pushing out polluted storm water containing cigarette butts, anti-freeze, oil, and whatever else is on the streets at that time," he wrote in the Cape Gazette

Beaches on both coasts struggle with cleanliness issues. 

CNN reported this summer: "Beach bums beware: 10 percent of water samples collected from U.S. beaches failed to meet the government benchmark for swimmer safety, according to a new report." 

For more on policy and politics, check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center

Image credit: "Walk," auxto_digit © 2011, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license:

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