Today, Maryland, Baltimore, and Baltimore County officials announced a new state bill to create a task force to examine wastewater and drinking water issues in the Baltimore region.
The legislation comes after former Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh warned lawmakers that understaffing of water inspectors at Maryland Department of the Environment was compromising drinking water safety. Lack of staffing at MDE and other issues have also led to a nearly two-decade decline in water quality enforcement activities, according to a report by the Chesapeake Accountability Project.
In spring of 2021, significant failures at the state’s two largest wastewater treatment plants—Back River and Patapsco—were publicly revealed after an investigation by the nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore. In response, the state ordered the Maryland Environmental Service to take over the Back River plant from Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works to handle the backlog of maintenance and service needs. Since then, the Back River plant has shown improvement in reducing pollutant discharges into Back River. However, the latest MDE inspection report from the Patapsco plant shows it’s still struggling to meet its pollution permit limits due to service and maintenance failures.
Excessive pollution discharges from the two wastewater treatment plants operated by Baltimore City are compromising efforts in Maryland to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup requirements.
In response to today’s bill announcement, CBF’s Maryland Senior Scientist Doug Myers issued the following statement:
“The current system has serious flaws, as shown by the recent failures of the state’s two largest wastewater treatment plants and numerous customer service issues. Cooperation between the city and counties coupled with adequate maintenance funding are necessary to bring these systems back to 21st century operations. We hope this task force gets to the bottom of the troubling issues that have plagued the water and wastewater systems in the Baltimore area. We urge officials to use this opportunity to also increase transparency and communication with the community about ongoing wastewater and drinking water issues.”