Back River WWTP Updates

What’s happened recently:

Last week, with the help of residents and our scientists, MDE confirmed that conditions at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant had gone from bad to worse. In his order to Baltimore City, which operates the plant, MDE Secretary Grumbles cited the risk of “catastrophic failure” and ordered a return to compliance within 48 hours.

After the subsequent inspection Saturday, Secretary Grumbles ordered the Maryland Environmental Service (MES) to take over operations at the plant.

As you likely know, we’ve been following this case closely since we helped uncover the pollution last summer, and filed suit against the City in December over ongoing violations.

Our take:

We appreciate the swift action this weekend of the Maryland Department of the Environment to address their findings. In coordination with our attorneys at Chesapeake Legal Alliance and Barley Snyder, we have been working closely with both MDE and the Baltimore City Department of Public Works for months on accountability and restitution measures related to illegal discharges from the two largest wastewater treatment plants in Maryland.

However, the findings by MDE last week contradict public messaging from the City about their progress toward improving operations and addressing permit violations. While we generally support local resource management in Baltimore City, we support MDE’s intervention to bring in the Maryland Environmental Service to perform emergency oversight at the plant. This is a short-term solution that is necessary to avert imminent disaster.  We are still committed to working with all parties involved to develop a long-term legally-binding plan to bring the facilities back into compliance and keep them there, to ensure public and environmental safety.


What’s next:

MES is due to publish a report on June 6th outlining results of a comprehensive assessment of the plant, including maintenance, staffing, and equipment. In the meantime, we will remain active participants in MDE’s legal accountability process for the damage caused to our ecosystem and communities.

As the public watchdog group for the Patapsco and Back River watersheds, we will also continue to independently monitor water quality and to support regulatory agencies with sampling and data. It’s painfully clear right now how important this role is.

We will also continue to amplify and support the residents most directly impacted by the treatment plant’s illegal discharges and sewage backups, including our partners with the Back River Restoration Committee who have been vital in recent monitoring efforts.


How to help:

You can help support our ongoing advocacy and investigations in this and other pollution cases with a tax-deductible donation.

It’s vitally important that we strengthen the ability of regulatory agencies like MDE to enforce the Clean Water Act. Please send a quick message in support of the state enforcement bill being considered this week in the General Assembly.

If you have questions about this news or our ongoing efforts to address pollution at the wastewater treatment plants, leave a comment or email us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.

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