Baltimore, Maryland reaches settlement over WWTP pollution

Nov. 28, 2023
A settlement between Baltimore City and two organizations could represent the largest civil penalty in Maryland for water pollution violations in at least 25 years.

The Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) and Blue Water Baltimore have reached a settlement with Baltimore City to address state and federal pollution violations that had allegedly occurred at Maryland’s two largest wastewater treatment plants operated by Baltimore, according to a press release from law firm Barley Snyder.

The settlement represents the largest civil penalty in Maryland for water pollution violations in at least 25 years and one of the largest civil penalties for violating any Maryland environmental law.

The violations include the alleged discharge of phosphorus and nitrogen that exceeded regulatory standards, posing harm to the public and the Chesapeake Bay.

The legally binding agreement aims to resolve two lawsuits against Baltimore City concerning violations at the Back River and Patapsco wastewater treatment plants. This includes federal litigation brought by Blue Water Baltimore in December 2021 for violations of the federal Clean Water Act, and a state action brought by MDE in January 2022 that Blue Water Baltimore joined in April 2022.

The settlement includes the following outcomes:

  • A legally enforceable consent decree holding the city accountable for past violations
  • $4.75 million in civil penalties
  • A requirement to replace and repair necessary equipment, submit quarterly progress reports, and hold annual public meetings
  • The installation of signs and warning lights at the WWTP outfalls in the Patapsco and Back Rivers. These will signal if sewage discharges bypass some or all plants’ treatment processes.
  • Third-party oversight to ensure the City fully complies with the consent decree
  • Forty percent of funds ($1.9 million) going toward restoration projects in the Back River and Patapsco watersheds in Baltimore City and County
  • Stipulated penalties if pollution limits are exceeded, failure to meet deadlines are not met, or failure to conduct adequate monitoring or reporting of water quality

The agreement is expected to go before the city’s Board of Estimates on November 15, 2023 for City ratification and then will be filed with the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

“This is a huge victory for clean water and for Baltimore residents,” said Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at Blue Water Baltimore. “With this enforcement action, we are exercising our rights under the Clean Water Act to amplify the concerns of our members and giving a voice to the Patapsco and Back Rivers which have been unjustly polluted for far too long. We couldn’t have done this important work without our pro-bono attorneys at Chesapeake Legal Alliance and Barley Snyder.”