BALTIMORE (July 6, 2004) – The City of Baltimore will pay $15,000 in penalties to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA) for a 8.5 million gallon sewage spill in May. A 1.5 million gallon spill reported by the city last week may result in a similar penalty.
The penalties are stipulated in a 2002 consent decree between the city, MDE and EPA. Penalties paid to MDE go into the Clean Water Fund for monitoring and surveillance of wastewater treatment plants.
A blockage in a 39-inch sewer line caused untreated sewage to spill into Gwynns Run, a tributary of Gwynns Falls. The blockage was found on May 24 after a city contractor inspecting sewer lines discovered that flow in the line was below normal. City crews located the blockage and discovered a smaller relief outfall through which the untreated sewage was reaching Gwynns Run.
As required, the city reported the spill to MDE May 25. A 3,000-foot temporary line was installed so the city could remove the blockage. Last week, however, the city reported that the inflatable bulkhead installed in the 39-inch line to clear the blockage had failed, releasing approximately 1.5 million gallons of sewage. MDE and EPA will determine whether a penalty is to be assessed after investigating that spill.
The consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice, EPA and MDE took effect on September 30, 2003. It requires the city to end years of chronic discharges into the Patapsco River and other tributaries – estimated at 100 million gallons between 1996 and 2002 – by undertaking a $940 million upgrade to its sewage treatment system.
As part of the consent agreement, the city also initiated a $2.7 million project for the design for the upgrade its Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant and paid a $600,000 civil penalty to the state and federal governments in 2002.
Between October 1, 2002 and the end of 2003, the city had been assessed $189,950 in stipulated penalties for sewage spills, half of which goes to MDE under the terms of the agreement.
In a typical consent order, wastewater treatment plant operators agree to pay set penalties when spills occur or water quality standards are exceeded. The penalties are set lower than the maximum permitted in law in recognition of the fact that exceedances may occur while the system is being repaired or upgraded.