|Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant|
In the two months since Maryland filed suit against Baltimore City over sewage treatment failures at its two wastewater plants, problems have worsened at the Back River site — prompting state environmental officials to issue an order demanding the facility be brought into compliance within 48 hours.
“If the conditions of my order are not met, I will not hesitate to take further appropriate actions,” Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said in a statement Thursday.
The city-run Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dundalk, which is the largest such facility in the state, is supposed to discharge up to 180 million gallons a day of treated wastewater into Back River. But when problems arise, and sewage is only partially treated, the water flowing into the river is contaminated with harmful bacteria and nutrients.
Excess amounts of those very nutrients, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, have imperiled efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay for decades, stimulating the growth of damaging algae blooms, contributing to the formation of “dead zones” and potentially sickening those who come in contact with contaminated water.
A Maryland Department of the Environment inspector who visited the facility this week documented numerous maintenance issues at the site, including “unacceptable” algae and other vegetation growth on various outdoor equipment meant to treat sewage, clogged filters and inoperable storage tanks.
“The decline in the proper maintenance and operation of the Plant risks catastrophic failures at the Plant that may result in environmental harm as well as adverse public health and comfort effects,” Grumbles wrote in his order.
The scathing inspection report released Thursday shocked Doug Myers, the Maryland senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. It was the worst inspection report he’s seen in all of his nine years at the foundation, he said. It made him wonder how the state did not issue an order demanding fixes sooner.
“It doesn’t look like anybody works there,” he said. “It’s just such backlogged maintenance. And it’s not just at one portion of the plant. It’s throughout the entire treatment process.”
My guess is that it's not lack of funds preventing the maintenance, just the inefficiency, lack of accountability and corruption in the Baltimore government that makes it difficult to do the job.