Maryland files lawsuit against Baltimore over sewage treatment plant failures

An aerial view of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Baltimore. The plant is one of two wastewater treatment plants in Baltimore that discharge millions of gallons of partially untreated sewage into the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Jane Thomas, Integration and Application Network/University of Maryland Environmental Science Center.

The state of Maryland on Friday filed a lawsuit against Baltimore for discharging untreated sewage into the Chesapeake Bay from two Baltimore sewage treatment plants.

Last summer, Blue Water Baltimore, an environmental monitoring group, found high levels of bacteria in the city’s harbor near the city-operated Patapsco sewage treatment plant. , and reported it to the Maryland Department of the Environment. MDE found similar sewage disposal violations during an inspection at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is also operated by the city.

The lawsuit, filed by Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) on behalf of the Maryland Department of the Environment in Baltimore City Circuit Court, includes fines of up to $10,000 per day, the two largest wastewater treatment plants in the state continue to discharge. more than their authorized amount. The lawsuit lists 10 license violations for the Back River plant and nine license violations for the Patapsco plant.

MDE inspected the two factories again last month, according to the lawsuit.

“Our top priority is to immediately bring the city’s world-class treatment plants back into compliance so that we stay on track with the goal of restoring the Chesapeake Bay by 2025,” the secretary said. environment of Maryland, Ben Grumbles, in a press release.

“We are filing the lawsuit and continuing to increase oversight of the city’s Department of Public Works since we discovered the full extent of the problem, and we are doing so in coordination with non-governmental organizations who have already filed lawsuits and share our objective to protect local water quality.

The Baltimore City Legal Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, Blue Water Baltimore filed a federal lawsuit against the city over sewage discharges under the Clean Water Act, which allows individuals and non-government groups to sue the government for failing to enforce or complied with its requirements. The ruling allows a judge to force the city to resolve wastewater treatment plant permit violations in a judicially enforceable consent decree, in the event that negotiations between Blue Water Baltimore, the city and Maryland environmental regulators fail. .

MDE also filed a notice of intent to sue the city for the Patapsco wastewater treatment plant and the Back River plant in federal court on Friday, allowing the state to file its own federal lawsuit or join Blue Water Baltimore’s lawsuit.

Blue Water Baltimore Harbor Water Custodian Alice Volpitta said Blue Water Baltimore intends to file a lawsuit next week to join the state’s lawsuit in City Circuit Court. Baltimore. “It’s ultimately how we can preserve our ability to have a seat at the table when it comes to crafting a legal agreement,” she said.

She said this recent action by MDE was expected as it is a reasonable next step to bring the two wastewater treatment plants back into compliance with their permits.

This MDE action comes after state lawmakers grilled Grumbles about MDE’s enforcement and understaffing issues this week. Lawmakers have questioned the agency’s enforcement diligence following a sewage spill in southern Maryland, a report on inadequate state inspections at poultry farms and a recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raising concerns about Maryland’s drinking water systems.

Lawmakers have also raised concerns about factories across the state operating under “zombie permits” or expired permits.

Conservationists said they hoped MDE would continue to take a more active approach like this in the future.

“We hope this marks the start of a more active approach from MDE. The best way to make sure other wastewater treatment plants, industrial polluters and large farms don’t violate their pollution limits is to enforce the law,” said Chesapeake Executive Director Josh Kurtz. Bay Foundation in Maryland, in a statement.

“Moving forward, MDE must dramatically increase inspections and enforcement, as well as work judiciously to update expired ‘zombie’ pollution permits at facilities across the state,” he said. Kurtz said. “This will protect the health of residents and ensure our progress toward Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals.”

Editor’s note: Josh Kurtz, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for Maryland, is not related to Josh Kurtz, founding editor of Maryland Matters.

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