Cape Gazette

Friday Editorial

Action time for Rehoboth wastewater plan

Jan 10, 2014

After years of discussion, design, hearings, consideration and votes, the final plan for an ocean outfall discharge pipe for Rehoboth Beach’s treated wastewater now reportedly sits on the desk of Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O’Mara. That controversial plan needs the secretary’s approval before the process can move toward the necessary permits and financial assistance from the state for construction of the $30 million project.

To say that the time has come for the secretary to make his decision is an understatement. Many years ago, federal guidelines mandated that all pollution point sources such as treated wastewater effluent pipes had to be removed from Delaware’s Inland Bays. For Rehoboth Beach, the mandates set 2014 as the deadline to stop discharging treated wastewater into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.

Clearly, even if O’Mara gives the green light this week, construction on the outfall pipe and other related improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment system won’t be complete in time to meet the 2014 deadline. So add the applications for extension of the discharge removal deadline to everything else necessary to get this project started.

Given Rehoboth Beach’s status as one of the nation’s nicest and cleanest ocean beaches, O’Mara’s hesitancy in signing off on a plan to dump even highly treated wastewater into the ocean about a mile offshore is understandable. Many, O’Mara included, preferred a spray irrigation alternative that would have avoided the negative public perception of an ocean outfall and preserved the freshwater resource represented by the treated wastewater. Rehoboth Beach, however, found the added expense of that approach unaffordable. It opted to go with the ocean outfall option, which despite perception, nonetheless meets environmental requirements. Unless O’Mara wants to recognize Rehoboth’s status as Delaware’s No. 1 resort - and as such an important statewide asset - and find the extra money necessary to offset the added expense represented by a spray irrigation system, he must greenlight the ocean outfall plan soon to meet the spirit of the 2014 agreement and realize the projected benefits to the Inland Bays.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Gregg W Rosner | Jan 17, 2014 08:00



In response your editorial on January 10, promoting the resolution of the Rehoboth Beach wastewater issue, an examination and update of some points of contention.  If the outfall proposal process were a Civics class in the real world, we could issue a report card to DNREC and City of Rehoboth. In its own way, the debate represents a teachable moment in a pluralistic, democratic society.


Accountability and Transparency-Grade F


For both Rehoboth Beach and the environmental groups opposing the ocean outfall alternative, DNREC has closed the door for almost a year on a final review and determination. This is yet another process failure by the state agency responsible for upholding both Delaware and federal regulations.


Compliance with Endangered Species Act -Grade F


As of November 2013, the NOAA Office of Protected Services had not received the final draft of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for comment. The EPA cannot proceed with issuance of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit (NPDEP) without compliance with all federal agencies. Both the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon and the newly listed Loggerhead sea turtle (threatened status) are under Federal review for Critical Habitat (CR) designation. The proposed ocean outfall diffuser will greatly impact their benthic habitat with contaminants. As the East Coast has witnessed with the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in 2013 for the Bottlenose Dolphin, even trace amounts of PCB’s, pharmaceuticals, and proprietary endocrine inhibitors bioaccumulate in all sea life. The responsible morbillivirus is a natural occurring, highly-communicable pathogen in cetaceans (dolphins, whales), yet the compromised immune systems of the 1000 stranded dolphins counted (and many more untold numbers lost at sea) precipitates into a fatal occurrence. Public admonishment and much shame on NOAA and DNREC if they add yet another point source of toxicity in ocean that is failing to support a sentinel species.


Adherence to principles of Rehoboth City Charter- Grade F


Even if DNREC clearly violates applicable DE 7 Administrative Code laws and issues a permit, the Mayor and city commissioners must approve a bond measure to finance the project. In doing so they subject themselves to both a legal review of the process and adherence to community standards, which is defined in Section 1, Article B of the city charter as such;


b. Except as hereinafter provided in this Charter relative to the power to issue Bonds, The Commissioners shall have all other powers and functions requisite to or appropriate for the government of the City, its peace and order, its sanitation, beauty, the health, safety, convenience, government and wellbeing of its population, and the protection and preservation of property, public and private, and the maintenance of a permanent seaside resort and the furnishing of proper conveniences and attractions requisite to the same:



Teacher’s note: National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has been apprised of the potential impact on swimmable water quality for this project along with the questionable upgrade of the city’s storm drain system in 2013. Losing the Five-star status of the resort beaches presents an economic liability that is untenable. How does an ocean outfall enhance beauty, exactly?




Promoting the Inland Bays, Degrading the Ocean-Grade F


Trading the health of one ecosystem for the degradation of another is disingenuous and more 1954 than 2014.  Rehoboth Beach and DNREC will have to constantly reassure the public that swimming in the ocean is “safe” despite the wastewater treatment only removing at best 50% of pharmaceutical load, adding thousand of pounds of nitrogen and phosphates which can trigger HAB’s; harmful algae blooms or red tides impairing respiratory abilities in beachgoers. These HAB’s enter the marine lifecycle as a biotoxin, a component of the food web.  The ocean outfall would be at maximum capacity during the tourist season, some eight million gallons per day. Also, the Rehoboth wastewater treatment facility was fined twice by DNREC in 2013 for procedural violations. Is the city up to the task for preserving the wellbeing of the population?



Class dismissed. Time for everyone concerned to preserve the health of the ocean, the vital economic engine of our coastal environment in Delamarva, and re-think a viable solution for the future.


Clean oceans, Clean bays, Clean economy, Clean Delaware


Gregg W. Rosner

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