Department of the Environment, WSSC, citizen groups reach agreement to improve Potomac River

Department of the Environment, WSSC, citizen groups reach agreement to improve Potomac River

Proposed Consent Decree will reduce pollution from drinking water treatment plant, require payment of financial penalty and funding for projects to benefit the environment

BALTIMORE, MD (Oct. 21, 2015) – The public utility that serves the metropolitan Washington area of Maryland will upgrade a major drinking water treatment facility to reduce water pollution and pay for up to $1 million in projects to benefit the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay under an agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment and citizen groups.

The agreement requires the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) to make short-term and long-term improvements to its Potomac Water Filtration Plant to reduce pollutants, including sediment, discharged by the plant to the Potomac River. It also requires WSSC to pay a $100,000 penalty to resolve alleged violations of the facility’s discharge permit.

The WSSC Commission voted today to accept the agreement with the Department of the Environment, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Potomac Riverkeeper. The agreement is in the form of a Consent Decree that must be approved by the U.S. District Court for Maryland.

“This is good news for the Potomac River and all the citizens in the region who depend on it,” said Ben Grumbles, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment. “It’s smart to invest in pollution prevention and cleaner water for downstream communities.”

The Potomac Water Filtration Plant provides drinking water to most of Montgomery County and parts of Prince George’s County. The plant withdraws millions of gallons of water a day from the Potomac River, filters the water, treats it to drinking water standards for distribution to the utility’s customers and discharges the remaining wastewater back to the Potomac River.

The Department issued a discharge permit for the facility in 1997. That permit expired in 2002 but has been administratively extended and remains in effect until a new permit is issued. Periodic high levels of suspended sediment in the intake water present challenges in treating that raw water to meet safe drinking water standards. As part of the agreement, MDE intends to share a draft proposed permit with the citizens groups and WSSC for review and comment for the purpose of publishing a tentative determination to renew the permit for the plant. The agreement lists conditions and effluent limitations and states that the proposed permit shall be no less stringent than those requirements.

The agreement includes interim performance measures and requirements for short-term plant improvements, along with a requirement that WSSC submit to the Department and the citizens’ groups a proposed study to determine a long-term upgrade plan for the plant. The agreement includes stipulated penalties for any failure by the plant to meet effluent limits, along with a stipulated penalty of $1 million if WSSC fails to fully implement an approved long-term capital improvement project by 2026.

The Department of the Environment provided notice to WSSC of its intent to file suit against the utility in May 2014. With an agreement now reached on a Consent Decree, the Department plans to file a complaint in federal court against WSSC. The Department also plans to file a motion to consolidate that complaint with a lawsuit previously filed against WSSC by Potomac Riverkeeper, represented by attorneys from the Environmental Integrity Project, and Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Secretary Grumbles thanks Assistant Attorney General and Department of the Environment Principal Counsel Steven R. Johnson for his work on this case.

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