City of Baltimore, DPW Statement on Back River and Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Settlement
Thursday Nov 2nd, 2023
BALTIMORE, MD (Thursday, November 2, 2023) – Today, the Baltimore City Department of Public Works released the following statement regarding the settlement reached with the Maryland Department of the Environment and Maryland Attorney General’s Office regarding the Back River and Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs).
“I made a commitment early on in my Administration to address the root cause of the systemic issues plaguing the delivery of high-quality city services for our residents,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “When these issues escalated at the height of the pandemic, I directed DPW to chart a path forward. With the support of our state regulators and advocates, my Administration has worked to shift the trajectory of our wastewater treatment facilities to move us closer to ensuring both of our WWTPs remain in compliance. Notably, in the summer of 2023, we posted the Patapsco Wastewater treatment facility’s best effluent numbers ever recorded and have consistently remained well below permitted effluent numbers.”
In the summer of 2021, the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) was notified by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) of standing violations dating back to 2017 at the Back River and Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plants. On August 23, 2021, MDE issued a Compliance/Enforcement letter calling for corrective measures regarding concerns with alleged permit violations at both wastewater treatment plants.
As a result, DPW performed data collection and analysis, staffing and field assessments, brainstorming sessions with key personnel, consultations with subject matter experts, and a review of DPW’s and MDE’s protocols to define the scope of the problem. On September 7, 2021, DPW responded to MDE with a full analysis of root causes and next steps.
On December 15, 2021, and January 21, 2022 Blue Water Baltimore (BWB) and MDE respectively filed civil lawsuits alleging that the WWTPs were being operated in violation of their permits.
Since then, DPW, BWB, and MDE negotiated and agreed upon the terms of the Wastewater Treatment Plants Consent Decree. This agreement, which must be approved by the court, will settle both lawsuits. Also included are corrective actions for critical assets, payment of fines and fees, and additional administrative actions the city must perform. The consent decree is scheduled to go before the Board of Estimates on November 15, 2023, for the City’s final approval.
Since that time, the department has documented significant improvements with its solids inventory, a key contributor to the permitted effluent performance. As of June of 2022, the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant has performed at or below the permitted levels. In addition, the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant has been compliant with its daily, weekly, and monthly effluent limitations since September of 2022 and has been meeting its requirements for Total Nitrogen since January of 2023. To kickstart lasting change, DPW created the Environmental Regulatory Compliance and Safety (ERCS) division to ensure a collaborative approach to compliance. This first-ever team of multi-disciplined professionals met daily to troubleshoot and execute timely actions and solutions. Across bureaus and divisions, DPW leadership held all contractors and consultants accountable for their roles and responsibilities.
“While these issues originated years prior, 2021 was the year that many of the issues at both plants escalated. During this time, like much of the country, we endured a number of challenges including staffing shortages, the retirements of senior personnel, and supply-chain disruptions,” said DPW Interim Director Richard J. Luna. “Despite this, the DPW team coalesced after receiving MDE’s letter to identify a pathway to overcome years of challenges and implement a strategic plan of action that has helped us already address the overwhelming majority of our requirements. As we work to tackle the longer-term action items, we will continue to coordinate with our regulators and advocates to ensure a more secure future for these plants.”
Since 2022, DPW has made the following improvements:
- Ensured the plants’ compliance–Back River reached compliance in June of 2022 and Patapsco in January of 2023.
- A renewed focus on hiring and recruiting new staff through an updated HR hiring process.
- Modernized and executed preventative maintenance programs, including the repair and rehabilitation of critical assets at both plants.
- DPW was able to return the solids processing operations at both plants to full service and alleviate the excess inventory
Although there is plenty of work to be done, WWTPs’ performance has been significantly improved over the past year and a half. The City has made crucial investments in these valuable assets and we continue to prioritize improving all aspects of WWTP compliance.