Don't let Wilmington increase
it's sewage discharges

        Port Penn, DE. November 26, 1999. Recently some "Flowing Towards the Future" discussions were held in Dover, sponsored by the Delaware River Basin Commission. There was lots of nice talk, and guests got the impression of hard-working officials cleaning up our region. The gaps between hype and reality are illustrated by a current proposal from the Carper Administration to let the Wilmington sewage treatment plant increase it's pollutant discharges into the Delaware River by 49 percent. (Flow would increase from 90 to 134 million gallons per day, and as few improvements in the effectiveness of treatment are called for, pollutant discharge would increase to 73,000 pounds per day.) Wilmington also has about 40 "combined sewer overflows" that dump totally untreated-raw-sewage into tributaries of the Delaware, and the pollutants from these aren't counted in the permit at all.

All reports basically agree that the Delaware, in spite of some improvement, remains polluted, to the extent that official advisories discourage eating fish from many parts of the river -- especially downstream from Wilmington. Like other aged cities along the River, Wilmington dumps large amounts of health threatening and cancer causing pollutants. Under the proposed permit Wilmington could dump 20 thousand pounds of lead, 175 pounds of mercury, and 61 thousand pounds of chromium into the Delaware every year. No limits at all are set on "persistent bioaccumulative toxins" such as PCBs and dioxins. All these pollutants contribute, of course, to water quality problems all along Delaware's shoreline. It seems almost too obvious to point out that we wouldn't have water supply problems if we didn't pollute our own supplies. Polluting our rivers is equivalent to connecting our septic tanks to our wells.

Ironically, the permitting program for river dumping is called the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Issue of these permits has been delegated to states, with the Environmental Protection Agency responsible to ensure that permits are consistent with the goals of the Clean Water Act to make our rivers "fishable and swimmable." The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) also has a role, partly through a program of "wasteload allocations," intended to ensure that total dumping into the river doesn't exceed it's capacity to accept waste without becoming polluted.. (Carol Collier, Executive Director of the DRBC, has told me she intends to "de-emphasize" the regulatory role of the Commission.) 

The NPDES program in Delaware has a bad record, and has gotten worse under Gov. Thomas Carper--now running for the US Senate. For example, another permit contested by Green Delaware, but eventually issued, allows Motiva Refinery in Delaware City to dump around 38 thousand pounds per day of oil and grease into the Delaware. It has been calculated that over the (supposed) five year life of this permit more oil and grease can be legally dumped from this one "outfall" than the Exxon Valdez spilled on the coast of Alaska. (Motiva is a joint venture of Shell, Texaco, and Saudi-Aramco, three of the world's worst environmental offenders.) When Green Delaware began working for cleanup of the Wilmington Sewers a couple of years ago, Division of Water Resources (DNREC) officials wrote us demanding a membership list. Of course, we refused to give them one, but why do state officials defend polluters while attacking independent advocates?

We've met with Mayor Sills of Wilmington, and asked him to withdraw this disgraceful permit application and work with us to find money for a real cleanup. Sills doesn't seem interested. Much of the increased sewage comes from New Castle County outside Wilmington, where County Executive Tom Gordon's policies of "dumb growth" are creating an environmental and quality of life meltdown in Northern Delaware. Gordon's people disclaim any responsibility for the operation of the Wilmington sewer plant.

Wilmington, flush with money from expanding financial services corporations such as MBNA, has less excuse than many other places for refusing to clean up its act. Our proposals haven't changed: Wilmington, in cooperation with State and Federal agencies and independent voices, needs to develop a comprehensive clean-up plan, including a commitment to eliminate all Combined Sewer Overflows. Federal and State funding can then be sought to help implement it. (The Federal government has spent many billions cleaning up sewer problems in cities smart enough to seek funding.) 

A public hearing requested by Green Delaware will be held in Wilmington on December 1 at seven O'clock, in the City Council chambers. We hope concerned people throughout the region will join us in opposing the proposed permit, either by attending the hearing or by  contacting these people, and their local Senator and Representative: Nick DiPasquale, Delaware's Secretary of Natural Resources, 302.739.4403,; Governor Carper, 302.577.3210,; Mayor Sills, 302.571.4100,; the Delaware River Basin Comm., 6098839500; and the EPA, 215.814.2900, Let them hear from you! Everyone knows the RDC calls this Îthe most valuable land on the river frontâ. We know that too.  We must have an appraisal of the true value of the land."

(c) Alan Muller 302.834.3466
November 26, 1999


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Alan J. Muller, Exec. Director
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Port Penn, DE 19731
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This site was last updated on June 17, 2000.