Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (March 23, 2001) -- The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is announcing its Final Determination to issue a new discharge permit to the Upper Potomac River Commission (UPRC) which will significantly improve the quality of the discharge to the North Branch Potomac River. UPRC's Westernport, Maryland, facility treats process wastewater from three local communities and Westvaco Corporation's Luke Mill.

To help UPRC meet new permit limits for turbidity and color, Westvaco Corporation has agreed to upgrade its paper processing facilities with additional pollution prevention controls. The final version of the permit is much more restrictive than the tentative determination.

The revised permit is the result of extensive deliberations among MDE, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Safe Waterways in Maryland (SWIM), the American Canoe Association, Westvaco Corporation and UPRC.

"The public input received during this process resulted in substantial enhancements to the proposed terms of the permit" said MDE Secretary Jane Nishida. "It is important that we move forward with the permit at this time so that improvements to the water quality in the North Branch can be realized."

Among the improvements that will be achieved by the new permit limits will be a 50 percent reduction in water discoloration within two years, and additional permit requirements to achieve compliance with water quality standards will apply within three years.

The permit requires compliance with the water quality standards within one mile of the discharge point until completion of required turbidity and color studies. The study results are to be made public within 30 months and the permit reopened to implement the final compliance location. Current color and turbidity impacts have been reported as far as 20 miles downstream.

The final permit also includes a 35 percent reduction in the limit of suspended solids and water quality assessments of their impact on organisms living on or in the stream bottom. There are also first-time limits for total nitrogen, which are among the most stringent applied to a publicly owned treatment facility in Maryland.

Other new or revised permit requirements include a thermal study; biological monitoring of the North Branch; annual priority pollutant scans; and biomonitoring. Concurrent with the issuance of the permit to UPRC, the state is issuing a new pretreatment permit to Westvaco Corporation which will provide additional water quality protection, and is renewing a separate cooling water discharge permit with more stringent temperature limits than in the previous Westvaco permit.

"This has been a lengthy process involving citizens' groups and government agencies at all levels," said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Thomas Voltaggio. "We expect the permit to help restore aquatic life and significantly reduce pollution in the Upper Potomac."

Duncan Smith, founder of SWIM, said "SWIM is very pleased with the results of a year and a half of negotiation on this permit. SWIM continues to be committed to its ‘win-win’ beliefs. This permit is a ‘win’ for Westvaco, a ‘win’ for MDE and most importantly a ‘win’ for the Potomac River and its users. While the River won't be as clear as it is above the discharge, with the new permit, the river should be able to support life once again in the near future. We commend Westvaco and the Upper Potomac River Commission for the capital expenditures they have promised to commit and for their environmental commitment to the community."

SWIM Executive Director C. Victoria Woodward added, "We are hopeful that SWIM's negotiations are indicative of a Departmental trend of expanding public participation in a meaningful manner before legal proceedings become a necessity. Bringing parties to the table for negotiation saves time, money and most importantly, leads to an expeditious issuance of permits protective of the waterways."

There have been noted improvements in this segment of the Potomac River since 1990.

"Maryland has put considerable effort into improving the North Branch Potomac River including surface coal mine reclamation, acid mine drainage treatment, and fish stocking," said J.L. Hearn, director of MDE’s Water Management Administration. "This permit will ensure that further necessary improvements will continue."