Blue Water Baltimore in Discussions with Baltimore DPW and MDE Regarding Actions Needed to Correct Wastewater Treatment Plant Violations
Leanna Powell, Director of Development and Communications, Blue Water Baltimore
Angela Haren, Senior Attorney, Chesapeake Legal Alliance
Baltimore, MD – Blue Water Baltimore (BWB), the independent non-profit public watchdog for the Patapsco and Back River watersheds, has initiated discussions with both the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) to work toward a permanent resolution to the previously documented violations at both the Back River and Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plants.
BWB leadership is already in conversation with DPW and MDE to explain concerns and secure support and collaboration in identifying and resolving issues with the plants, while also ensuring public transparency and accountability.
Last week the Chesapeake Legal Alliance sent a letter on behalf of BWB notifying Baltimore City of their intent to bring a lawsuit, after the required 60-day notice period required under the citizen suit provisions of the federal Clean Water Act. BWB leadership also made it clear in preliminary meetings with the City and MDE, and in the letter, that they would welcome the opportunity to discuss resolution of this matter prior to the initiation of litigation.
This action was taken in order to protect the rights of BWB members under the Clean Water Act, and to preserve necessary legal options for ensuring public involvement and oversight in resolving the violations. The notice of intent to file a lawsuit is part of BWB’s efforts to represent the public in this matter and to ensure that the City repairs the damage to our waterways and restores public confidence in the City’s ability to properly operate the plants and meet water quality standards.
Blue Water Baltimore and Chesapeake Legal Alliance initially grew concerned about plant operations at the beginning of the year when significant exceedances of pollution limits were reported on US Environmental Protection Agency compliance databases. In April and May 2021 BWB’s routine water quality monitoring program detected unusually high bacteria levels in the Harbor in the vicinity of the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant effluent discharge. BWB promptly alerted Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) about these readings and MDE’s subsequent site inspections at both the facilities revealed ongoing, significant violations, some of which have been occurring over several years at both plants. Records indicate that both of the WWTPs have been in significant noncompliance with their Clean Water Act permits including hundreds of exceedances for numerous parameters, some exceedances at over 400% of permit limits.
Public records indicate that both plants have been in significant noncompliance with their Clean Water Act permits for over a year, including many months of ongoing violations of fecal bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other water quality permit limits Patapsco and Back River are the two largest plants in the state of Maryland and these violations threaten the state’s ability to reach its goals under the Chesapeake Bay cleanup agreement. The success of that multi-state agreement is in jeopardy because of the millions of gallons of pollution being discharged from these wastewater treatment plants.
“Aggressive and comprehensive action is necessary to ensure a healthy future for our region; Baltimore’s residents deserve as much oversight and collaboration as possible now and in the future,” said Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore. “We want to ensure that this gets resolved quickly and with as little additional financial burden on the City’s taxpayers as possible.”
“These two plants are discharging millions of gallons of pollution directly into local waters, in some cases over 400% the permit limits, which threatens public health and the state’s chances of meeting Bay Cleanup goals,” said Angela Haren, Senior Attorney for Chesapeake Legal Alliance, representing Blue Water Baltimore in this matter. “Our clients are using the Clean Water Act to ensure these illegal discharges are corrected immediately.”
# # #
Blue Water Baltimore, home of the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit watershed organization with a mission to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams, and Harbor to foster a healthy environment, a strong economy, and thriving communities
Chesapeake Legal Alliance is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that applies the power of the law to protect and restore clean water and promote healthy, resilient ecosystems for communities across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.