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Maryland Department of the Environment

Maryland Environment Secretary McIlwain, Attorney General Brown Announce Settlement of Lawsuit over Wastewater Treatment Facilities

Provides accountability for required corrective actions at Back River and Patapsco plants; Imposes penalty of $4.75 million

BALTIMORE (Nov. 2, 2023) – Maryland Environment Secretary Serena McIlwain and Attorney General Anthony G. Brown today announced the settlement of a lawsuit against Baltimore City to address unauthorized discharges of pollution from the state’s two largest sewage treatment plants.

The settlement includes an enforceable timeline for corrective actions at the city’s Back River and Patapsco wastewater treatment plants. It also includes a civil penalty of $4.75 million – with nearly $2 million of that to be set aside for competitive grants to improve water quality or restore aquatic habitat in the Patapsco and Back River watersheds.

“This settlement puts us on the right path to repair and upgrade our state’s two largest wastewater treatment plants, which means healthier waterways, a healthier Chesapeake Bay, and a healthier Maryland,” said Secretary McIlwain. “We look forward to working in collaboration with Baltimore City as it puts this detailed plan for solutions into action at the Back River and Patapsco facilities. We also thank Blue Water Baltimore for the important role they have played in this agreement.”

Inspectors are observing improvements at the plants and will continue to monitor the situation and provide technical assistance for repairing and upgrading equipment. At Back River, there are currently four primary settling tanks in operation with another three scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, up from only two found operating in 2021. Over the last year and a half, nitrogen concentration discharge levels at Patapsco decreased by 85 percent, from 20 mg/l to 3 mg/l, and Back River decreased by 70 percent, from 10 mg/l to 3 mg/l.

“The resolution of this lawsuit reflects the State’s and the City’s shared commitment to the goals of protecting the health and well-being of our community and waterways,” said Attorney General Brown. “The improvements to the Back River and Patapsco wastewater treatment plants required under the agreement are critical to furthering these goals. The Office of the Attorney General is grateful to our local partner Blue Water Baltimore for its collaboration on reaching this settlement.”

The settlement includes requirements that Baltimore City:

  • Achieve necessary staffing levels to carry out operation, maintenance and testing functions of both plants
  • Post quarterly updates online tracking the progress of corrective actions and work performed
  • Hold at least one virtual and one in-person public meeting annually for each facility
  • Install signs to notify the public of submerged wastewater treatment effluent pipes and lighting to indicate any sewage bypass and release at the plants
  • Hire an independent engineer to assess plant performance

The settlement provides financial incentives to the city for completing the required corrective actions on schedule.

The lawsuit was filed on MDE’s behalf by the Office of the Attorney General in January 2022 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, charging that the city violated its discharge permits and state water pollution laws. It also alleged that unauthorized discharge of pollutants, including nitrogen and phosphorus, was undermining Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts by Maryland and the other watershed states. Blue Water Baltimore joined the suit in April 2022. The settlement will become effective when approved by the Baltimore City Board of Estimates. It will then be lodged with the Circuit Court and become effective as a judicial consent decree upon approval by the court.

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