A Washington-based nonprofit organization that monitors the health of the Potomac River and its tributaries announced last week that it intends to sue the Charles County Board of Public Works in federal court, saying the Mattawoman Wastewater Treatment Plant is not operating in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.
In last week’s announcement from the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, the organization said that the lawsuit is intended to address the alleged “ongoing unlawful discharges of wastewater from the county’s Mattawoman Wastewater Treatment Plant into the Potomac River and Mattawoman Creek.” In a Nov. 11 letter to Board of Public Works director William Shreve, the organization through its attorneys at the Georgetown Law Institute for Public Representation alleges that the county’s public works board has failed to comply with the stipulations outlined in its pollution discharge system permit.
Additionally, the letter says, the plant has been “discharging wastewater from the county’s sewers into Mattawoman Creek without a permit.”
“Our investigation shows that this sewage plant violated its permit on numerous occasions over at least the past five years, and the pollution continues,” Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks said in the release. “These illegal discharges are fouling the Potomac River and Mattawoman Creek, a beautiful tidal tributary that is treasured by local residents and popular with paddlers and anglers. The public has a right to clean water in our rivers and streams, and Charles County has a legal and ethical duty to operate its wastewater plant in compliance with state and federal law. Our goal is to compel the County to immediately clean up its act at this facility and cease this illegal pollution activity.”
According to the letter, the board of public works was issued a permit in 2017 allowing it to discharge treated wastewater into the river. The permit, the letter says, stipulates weekly and monthly maximum averages of acceptable levels of pollutants including from E. coli, phosphorus, nitrogen and total suspended solids.
A review of the discharge monitoring report that covered a time period ranging from March 31, 2015, to Aug. 31 of this year reportedly indicated that the plant exceeded the monthly and weekly average maximum values for E. coli, phosphorus, total suspended solids and biological oxygen demand.
The specifics of the permit, the letter says, establish that the plant must report “any bypass incidents” to the Maryland Department of the Environment by phone within 24 hours and in writing within five days.
On July 8 this year, officials from the plant wrote to MDE to notify them “a large rain event had occurred almost a year prior, on July 22, 2018, requiring a bypass of the filters,” the letter says. The state agency was reportedly not notified of the bypass in 2018 when the bypass incident first occurred.
“The July 8 letter further states that partial bypasses have been occurring ever since the July 22, 2018 event, and will continue to occur until the filters have been replaced,” the letter says. “The Mattawoman WWTP expects the filter replacement to be completed on December 31, 2019. Because these partial bypasses have not been reported to the MDE, the Mattawoman WWTP has been, and continues to be, in violation of the bypass reporting requirements contained in its NPDES permit.”
According to the letter, the pollution levels in the water “could render it unsafe for recreation and consumption of fish and shellfish.” The Clean Water Act stipulates that the county board has 60 days to respond to the allegations listed in the notice.
“If nothing changes by day 61, PRKN is prepared to file suit in federal court to enforce the law,” the release says.
In a Tuesday morning email response to the Maryland Independent’s inquiry, county spokeswoman Donna Fuqua said “the Office of the County Attorney has not received any notices concerning a lawsuit or notice of intention to file a lawsuit related to the Potomac Riverkeeper Network or unlawful wastewater discharges. Based on this, the county have no comment to provide.”