Press Release

SAVAGE, MD (August 9, 2004) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will conduct targeted inspections of wastewater treatment plants in high-growth areas of the state and of plants with reported high flows or compliance issues, the secretary of the environment said today. The department will also require all facilities to develop capacity management plans.

“These steps will allow the state and local jurisdictions to manage demand on wastewater treatment infrastructure more effectively and help to ensure that we can protect Maryland’s waters,” Kendl P. Philbrick said.

The department will also create an internal planning unit that will concentrate on water and sewer plan review. Planners will work with local governments to ensure that water and sewer plans are up-to-date and that capacity management plans are well thought-out and followed by local governments.

And MDE will work closely with the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) to improve coordination of water and sewer planning with comprehensive land-use planning and to use MDP growth monitoring and projection information to identify wastewater treatment plants that are facing high demand on a timely basis.

Philbrick announced the new policies in conjunction with the release of a report from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that declared Maryland’s oversight and inspection of wastewater treatment plants meet or exceed the highest standards.

“The work of the department as well as the integrity and honesty of plant operators and local jurisdictions have been questioned by some people,” Philbrick said. “This report should put those questions to rest.”

Philbrick said that the vast majority of plants in the state are well-run and that their operators set and meet high standards.

Compliance experts from EPA’s Philadelphia region accompanied MDE inspectors on unannounced inspections of three plants – Centreville and Queenstown in Queen Anne’s County and Little Patuxent in Howard County. MDE’s inspections, the federal agency concluded, met national standards and MDE inspection procedures are comparable to those of EPA. The three oversight inspections observed indicated that all were carried out very carefully and thoroughly. The inspectors were well trained in procedures and exhibited excellent command of the principles of wastewater collection and treatment.

Each was familiar with each facility and had done the appropriate pre-inspection reviews. Follow-up actions are appropriate given the nature of the deficiencies observed at the three facilities. File and inspection documentation is sufficiently adequate to accurately represent the activities performed during the inspection and captured the necessary information to assess compliance.

Philbrick described the stepped-up inspections as a “targeted inspection regime.” He said MDE inspections at targeted plants will include duplicate sampling of effluent, physical inspection of the plant treatment systems and record-keeping, review of local records on sewer connections to evaluate capacity demand on the plants, and follow-up discussions with local officials on their capacity management plans. These detailed inspections will take two to five days, depending on the size of the plant.

“For plant operators and communities, this is a valuable exercise,” he said. “In combination with the new requirement for capacity management plans and greater support for the planning process, we will be helping communities grow in a way that doesn’t over-tax infrastructure and plan in a way that ensures that infrastructure will continue to be adequate to local needs.”

MDE will require submission of monthly flow and building permit approval reports for each municipal wastewater treatment plant and review the data in order to identify plants that are reaching their capacity limits before problems can occur.

Philbrick also announced that MDE and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will launch a joint Chesapeake Bay Emergency and Environmental Hotline. Citizens will be able to call a single number to report emergencies and environmental concerns and their calls will be routed directly to DNR or MDE for immediate response.

At the same time that MDE is increasing its emphasis on inspections and planning, the department is gearing up to implement Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.’s Bay Restoration Fund, which will fund upgrades to large municipal wastewater treatment plants throughout Maryland.

The fund, which is financed by $2.50 per month fee paid by households and businesses served by local water and sewer systems, will pay for state-of-the-art technology at the 66 largest plants in Maryland and reduce the flow of nitrogen into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by 7.5 million pounds annually.