An aerial picture of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant
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Environmental Groups Announce Landmark Agreement to Resolve Wastewater Treatment Plant Violations

An aerial picture of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant

Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (Google Earth)

Baltimore, MD – Blue Water Baltimore and its attorneys at the Chesapeake Legal Alliance announce today an agreement with Maryland Department of Environment and Baltimore City to address pollution violations at the state’s two largest Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs). 

Working cooperatively with the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), Blue Water Baltimore and its attorneys fought for a comprehensive plan to fix the significant problems at the Back River and Patapsco WWTPs, with transparency and oversight to make sure that plan is followed. Under the agreement, Baltimore City will pay $4.75 million in penalties, replace and repair necessary equipment, submit quarterly progress reports, and hold annual public meetings to inform the public of the work being done. To protect public health, the City will be required to install signs and warning lights at the WWTP outfalls in the Patapsco and Back Rivers that will turn on if sewage discharges bypass some or all of the plants’ treatment processes. Importantly, third-party engineers will provide oversight to ensure the City is on track with the milestones in the decree.

The settlement is the largest civil penalty for a water pollution violation in at least 25 years and one of the largest ever civil penalties for a violation of any Maryland environmental law. Forty percent of the funds ($1.9 million) will go to restoration projects in the Back River and Patapsco watersheds, to be administered as competitive grants overseen by the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Of the remainder, half will be paid directly to MDE and half held back, to be paid only if the City violates the decree. The City could face additional penalties if it fails to meet repair deadlines and conditions set forth in the decree. 

This legally binding agreement will resolve two lawsuits against Baltimore City for egregious violations at both plants: a federal case brought by Blue Water Baltimore in December 2021 and a state action brought by Maryland Department of the Environment and Blue Water Baltimore in January 2022. Blue Water Baltimore is represented by Chesapeake Legal Alliance and Barley Snyder in both cases. 

The agreement is expected to go before the City’s Board of Estimates on November 15, 2023 for City ratification and will then be filed with the Court.   

“This is a huge victory for clean water and for Baltimore residents,” said Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore. “Not only does this decree provide oversight and transparency to ensure the plants will stay compliant, but it provides needed funds for restoration in the watersheds directly affected by mismanagement at these plants.  We look forward to working with MDE to make sure the plan is followed.”

“We are proud to finally have an agreement to bring the plants back into full compliance and to provide much needed investment in local communities,” said Angela Haren, senior attorney at Chesapeake Legal Alliance. “The people of Baltimore deserve nothing less than clean and healthy water. This is a win not only for Baltimore, but for the entire Chesapeake Bay region.”

“Conditions at these plants were dire for residents, employees, and for the environment,” said Sydnee Wilson Ruff, interim Executive Director of Blue Water Baltimore. “This agreement strikes a delicate balance between holding polluters accountable, and keeping the lion’s share of the penalty money in the waterways and communities that were most affected by the pollution. Now, we look forward to continuing our longstanding partnership with Baltimore City leaders to improve the health, safety, and welfare of Baltimore residents and our shared environment.”

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