BALTIMORE, MD (August 6, 2004) – Maryland’s Department of the Environment (MDE) is proposing new regulations that describe specific items that must be provided to the agency, local health departments and the public following a significant sewage overflow event involving any of the state’s approximately 350 wastewater treatment facilities.
“These regulations will strengthen our effort to ensure that all concerned parties are properly informed about sewage overflows,” said Kendl P. Philbrick, Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment. “This action will add specifics to the general provisions already stated in the law.”
MDE began requiring reporting of all sewage overflows through a directive issued in October 2000. MDE and local health directors developed a joint guidance document for public notification decisions in January 2001. A state law effective October 1, 2001 reinforced the requirements to report overflows to MDE and to notify the public in coordination with local health departments.
Sewage overflows can lead to degraded water quality, negatively impact the ecology of an area as well as pose public health concerns due to the potential presence of bacteria. An overflow is defined as any loss of wastewater or discharge from a sanitary sewer system, combined sewer system, or wastewater treatment plant bypass which results in the direct or potential discharge of raw, partially treated or diluted sewage into waters of the state. This includes any overflow onto the surface of the ground, into waterways, storm drains, ditches or other manmade or natural drainage conveyances to surface or ground waters.
The proposed regulations require the owner or operator to perform sampling of surface waters where an overflow occurs, when directed by the health department and to provide the results to MDE. Items to be reported include: the location, the name of the owner and operator of the sanitary sewer system or treatment plant, receiving waters, the volume of the overflow, a preliminary assessment of the impact upon state waters, suspected cause, when the overflow began and ended, corrective steps taken and whether the public has been notified.
The proposed regulations also address notifications to the public by the owner or operator of a sewer system or wastewater treatment plant. Unless advised by the health department, the owner or operator will be required to notify the public as soon as practicable, but not later than 24 hours after learning of an overflow that enters sensitive waters, i.e. shellfish harvesting waters, drinking water sources, public bathing beaches, public recreation areas where people may boat, fish, or swim in the water, or where the health department believes there is a public health risk.
For overflows to any state waters of 10,000 gallons or more, the owner or operator will be required to notify the public by a public service announcement or paid advertising in a daily newspaper, radio station, or television station serving the immediate area where the overflow occurred and any other areas where the overflow is likely to have an adverse impact and by posting affected areas. For smaller overflows, the general public notification may be provided in quarterly or annual reports made available on a web site in conjunction with a written notification.
If there are schools, day care centers, hospitals or similar establishments with potentially sensitive populations that may be subject to exposure in the immediate area of an overflow, a representative of the owner or operator will be required to notify each establishment about the overflow as soon as possible. Further, the proposed regulations require owners or operators to maintain certain records, including information about backups of sewage into houses or businesses and complaints from customers or others related to overflows.
The regulations are to be published in the Maryland Register on or about Sept. 17. A public hearing on the proposed regulations will be held at MDE headquarters in Baltimore Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. in the Gwynns Falls Conference Room. A 30-day public comment period will follow through Nov. 1, with the regulations tentatively being finalized by the end of the year, depending on comments received.