Citizen Pollution Reporting Leads To Cleaner Water

[Note: Tina Meyers is the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.]

One of the reasons I love the Clean Water Act, passed by Congress in 1972 to prevent pollution to our nation’s waterways, is that it allows citizens the right to participate meaningfully in the regulatory process.

Under the Act, citizens are empowered to help protect their local streams by filing their own enforcement actions against polluters.  Not only that, citizens can submit official comments on permits to pollute written by their state and federal agencies (something we ask you to do regularly, if you are on our email newsletter list).

A cornerstone of my role as the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper is to take a grassroots approach to cleaning up Baltimore’s waterways by engaging citizens in enforcement against polluters and ensuring that government is doing their job.  However, I am only one person in a very large and very polluted watershed.  Therefore I rely heavily on citizens like you to keep eyes and ears on your local waterways. If you see pollution, please report it to us and the appropriate government agency!

Treuths Processing Discharge 10
Red water in Cooper Branch appeared to be caused by illegally discharged animal waste. January, 2012.

In order to illustrate the importance of citizen involvement, I’d like to tell you about a diligent citizen reporter who made a real contribution to the quality of his local stream.  This person took the initiative to report the water pollution that he observed to us and the Maryland Department of the Environment (“MDE”), and this led MDE to take serious action against the polluter.

The Cooper Branch is a creek in Catonsville that flows into the Patapsco River.  It is used extensively by residents for fishing and hiking along its Baltimore County greenways trail.  J.W. Treuth & Sons is a slaughterhouse, meat processing plant and hide curing facility located on Cooper Branch.  In 2012, we received several reports from a concerned citizen, who frequently recreates with his family on the creek, that he had been witnessing animal processing waste and other water pollution discharging from the slaughterhouse into the creek.  The citizen reporter had been observing water pollution from the facility starting in 2008.

For example, in September, 2011, a truck from the facility discharged liquid animal waste onto Frederick Road and Main Street in Ellicott City.  Since the facility did not report the incident, MDE only found out about the water pollution because of our diligent citizen reporter, who followed the stream of animal waste back to J.W. Treuth & Sons and reported it.

Then, in January, 2012, the citizen observed and photographed liquid animal processing waste (i.e. blood, etc.) discharging from the J.W. Treuth & Sons facility into the Cooper Branch.  It appeared that the processing waste was placed in a trailer and the trailer bed was left open to allow the waste to drain across the parking lot and into the creek.

Treuths Processing Discharge 15
The trailer appeared to be discharging animal processing waste towards the stream at J.W. Treuth & Sons. January, 2012.

Both the citizen and I reported this industrial stormwater pollution to MDE and the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, which led to a Consent Order entered by MDE and J.W. Treuth & Sons on November 5, 2012, requiring the slaughterhouse to pay $25,000 in penalties and take actions to prevent future water pollution to the creek.  The citizen reporter and I are continuing to oversee that process to ensure that it will result in real changes for the creek.

The bottom line is this: you can make a real difference if you speak up when you see something wrong!

When you are out for a stroll near your favorite stream, and you see something that doesn’t look right, please let us know.  Reports like this make it possible for me and everyone else at Blue Water Baltimore to do our jobs effectively, and for the government to hold polluters accountable.

This case also highlights the need for our environmental agencies to issue stringent permits to pollute which are clearly written and therefore easily enforceable by both the government and the public.

Thanks to all of you who care so much about Baltimore’s waterways and work with us to get such a challenging job done. Don’t forget to report any water pollution incidents to our water pollution reporting hotline at 443-908-0696!

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