Massanutten Sewage Treatment Plant & Pollution Trading

Aerial photo of Massanutten STP by Alan Lehman.

Shenandoah Riverkeeper is working to stop nutrient trading and get stricter limits on nutrients from the Massanutten Sewage Treatment Plant to better protect Quail Run, Boone Run, and ultimately, the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. This facility discharges treated wastewater from the ski resort area, including the lodge, restaurants, condominiums, and private homes. Unfortunately, it is undersized and incapable of handling the waste load demands. Instead of upgrading the facility, the owners simply purchased nitrogen and phosphorous credits as permitted under the Chesapeake Bay nutrient trading program, allowing the excess discharges to fuel heavy algal growth at the top of the Shenandoah watershed.

The Chesapeake Bay nutrient trading program is a market-based approach that involves the exchange of pollution allocations between sources. Say Facility X is exceeding its nitrogen and phosphorus limits while Facility Y is staying under its limits. Facility Y sells their unused pollution load to the nutrient trading exchange and Facility X buys these credits to get them under their permit limits. The Chesapeake Bay nutrient trading program allows exchanges to take place as long as the facilities are on the same tributary. Only in this case, tributary means the entirety of the Potomac watershed. This mean the credits could be generated all the way down at Coles Point, VA, where the Potomac meets the Chesapeake Bay, and purchased at the top of the Shenandoah watershed, forcing users of the Shenandoah to have to suffer due to degraded water conditions. To further complicate matters, credits are co-mingled in a common account so you have no way of tracking where exactly the credits are being generated to assess the overall impact on the Shenandoah River system.

Status Update: Shenandoah Riverkeeper filed extensive comments on the original draft permit in 2015. In 2017, we scored a major victory in protecting the Shenandoah watershed by compelling the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to dramatically improve the Massanutten Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) permit and halt nutrient trading at the facility. The previous permit allowed the STP to exceed its permit limits for nutrients and purchase credits to “offset” the excess nitrogen and phosphorus being discharged into Quail Run. In response to our appeal of the permit in state court, the STP also voluntarily agreed to accelerate its implementation schedule – from four years to just one year.

Latest Updates

Shenandoah Riverkeeper Halts Nutrient Trading at the Massanutten Sewage Treatment Plant

The Shenandoah Riverkeeper scored a major victory in protecting the Shenandoah watershed by compelling the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to dramatically improve the Massanutten Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) permit and halt nutrient trading at the facility. The previous permit allowed the STP to exceed its permit limits for nutrients and purchase credits to […]

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