A watershed-protection group wants the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board to throw out a Potomac River pollution permit that state regulators gave a federal facility in Shepherdstown and instead impose Maryland’s tougher sampling requirements.
Potomac Riverkeeper said Monday it has filed an administrative appeal challenging the discharge permit that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued last month to the National Conservation Training Center.
The DEP didn’t immediately comment on the appeal, which argues that sampling effluent just once a month “renders the permit’s limits toothless.”
It also argues that Maryland has legal jurisdiction over the Potomac, a drinking water source for nearly 6 million people.
The training center is just one of several West Virginia facilities that discharge directly into the Potomac and is not being singled out, the group said.
“Each one of these treatment plants should be held to the highest standards,” said spokesman Brent Walls, “and currently that would be Maryland’s.”
The training center is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service educational complex that offers courses, conferences and workshops for conservation professionals from throughout the country. It also hosts regular community lectures and panel discussions with writers, historians, scientists, filmmakers and educators on a variety of environmental, ecological and conservation issues.
Director Jay Slack said his facility has run a small wastewater treatment plant since the campus opened in 1997. The complex has about 300 part- and full-time employees, he said, and 226 guest rooms that are primarily used during the work week.
“As a unit of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we are by the very nature of our agency’s mission, focused on the conservation of fish, wildlife and their habitat,” he said in an email. “Water quality in the Potomac River is serious matter to us.”
Slack said his agency has worked diligently with the West Virginia DEP to ensure it complies with all regulations.
“We take great pride and focus considerable effort to ensure that our facility is as environmentally sound as we can make it,” he said.
But Potomac Riverkeeper contends the infrequent effluent sampling required under West Virginia’s permit doesn’t even produce a monthly average for pollutants, the complaint says, “just a single data point each month.”
That effectively means the DEP and the public are getting no useful information in determining whether the training center is complying with its permit limits, the group argues.
Because the Maryland Department of the Environment has more stringent standards, West Virginia should follow its protocol, the complaint says. That means replacing once-a-month sampling with weekly eight-hour sampling for substances such as nitrogen, phosphorous, chlorine and total suspended solids.
The appeal also demands weekly samples for e. coli bacteria, which currently isn’t required, and daily sampling of pH, dissolved oxygen and residual chlorine levels.
Potomac Riverkeeper has nearly 3,000 members in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and the District of Columbia. They include fishing guides and others who rely on the river for their livelihoods.
The Environmental Quality Board has not yet scheduled a hearing.