More than 30 Million Pounds of Sediments and Aluminum Dumped in 4 Years: Potomac Riverkeeper and Chesapeake Bay Foundation File Complaint in Federal Court against Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission for Illegal Discharges and other Violations of the Clean Water Act


Feb 22, 2014 (7 years and 8 months ago)



More than 30 Million Pounds of Sediments and Aluminum Dumped in 4 Years: Potomac
Riverkeeper and Chesapeake Bay Foundation File Complaint in Federal Court against Washington
Suburban Sanitary Commission for Illegal Discharges and other Violations of the Cl
ean Water Act

WASHINGTON, D.C.///February 12, 2014///
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC),
owner of the Potomac Water Filtration Plant, has been sued in federal court for polluting the Potomac
River and the Chesapeake Bay in violation of the

Clean Water Act. Attorneys from Environmental Integrity
Project (EIP), on behalf of the Potomac Riverkeeper, together with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(CBF), filed a lawsuit today against WSSC in the United States District Court for the District of Mary
for years of unchecked water pollution from the filtration plant.

The Potomac Water Filtration Plant is located near Seneca, Maryland, alongside the historic C & O Canal
National Historical Park and upstream from Great Falls National Park, and discha
rges up to 15.8 million
gallons per day (average discharge is 8 MGD) of wastewater into the Potomac River. The facility provides
drinking water to the majority of Maryland residents in Montgomery County and parts of Prince George’s
County, and has been ope
rating under a 5
year permit that expired nearly 12 years ago. Potomac
Riverkeeper and CBF allege that the WSSC facility has and continues to discharge millions of pounds of
sediments (formally known as total suspended solids or TSS) and aluminum directly
into the river instead
of treating these wastes and disposing of the remaining wastestream off

Excess sediments not only muddy the water, they smother fragile fish eggs, rob the water of vital oxygen,
reduce the amount of sunlight needed for healthy

aquatic plant growth, and threaten the benthic
community. Benthic organisms such as oysters, clams, snails, and crabs feed on decaying matter in the
sediments, and in turn, are a crucial source of food for fish and other higher organisms in the food web.
Significant amounts of aluminum in the discharge can have adverse impacts on fish population and
benthic communities, depending on other water quality factors such as pH and hardness. Although
aluminum is a metal known to stress fish and amphibian populati
ons, the Maryland Department of the
Environment (MDE) has allowed WSSC to discharge aluminum in amounts well above EPA’s National
Recommended Water Quality Criteria for more than a decade.

The health of the river and Bay are being compromised by WSSC’s op
erations because its solids
treatment unit, which became operational in 2002, simply doesn’t work. The result is massive amounts of
untreated pollution flowing daily into two of the nation’s and region’s most cherished waterways: the
Potomac River and, ult
imately, the Chesapeake Bay, both of which are impaired, among other reasons,
for excess sediments. More than a decade after the 1997 permit expired (May 2002) and the solids
treatment unit went online, WSSC and the MDE still have not arrived at a fix. Bot
h local water bodies
continue to suffer as a result of the stalemate between the two governmental entities over the permit and
the treatment unit overhaul.

As a result of tens of thousands of pounds of chemicals added every week to aid the ailing treatmen
process, WSSC discharged approximately 30 million more pounds of TSS than it took in and added
approximately 1.5 million pounds of aluminum

just in the last four years. In addition, WSSC discharges
significant amounts of phosphorus into the Potomac Riv
er without any permit limits and zero treatment.
Making matters worse, WSSC is several orders of magnitude less efficient at removing and treating solids
and other pollutants than other regional water suppliers.

“The discharges from the WSSC facility are
unacceptable. The Potomac is already suffering from
excess sedimentation, and this just makes it worse. Meanwhile, the aluminum pouring out of the
outfall is putting undue stress on the fish population. The Potomac River, and everyone who
depends on it, de
e better,”

said Matthew Logan, president, Potomac Riverkeeper.

“The sediment being discharged, in violation of permit limits, is damaging the health of the
Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, and toxicity testing, which is required by the permit, is
eded to determine what damage is being done by the al

said Jon Mueller, CBF v

president, l
itigation .
“The goal of this action is to push WSSC to upgrade its facility, stop
unpermitted discharges, and ensure accurate monitoring. MDE and WSSC mus
t ensure that
permit limits, crucial to Chesapeake Bay Blueprint efforts, are met.”

“We are disappointed in WSSC’s refusal to respond to our letter notifying them of very serious
violations of the Clean Water Act, which contribute to pollution of the Poto
mac River and the
ake Bay,”

said Eric Schaeffer, executive d
irector of EIP.
“While we remain open to a
reasonable settlement, at this point we have no choice but to ask a federal court to put a stop to
these illegal discharges.”

In 2010, pollution
limits were established for Chesapeake Bay, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load
(TMDL), which is designed to reduce the amount of pollution

specifically sediment, nitrogen and
phosphorus, released into the Bay and its tributaries, including the Potomac R
iver, and over time restore
the water quality of the watershed. In June 2012, EPA approved the pollution limits established by MDE in
the Potomac River TMDL because studies indicate that the river’s biological communities are impaired
due to sediment
ed stressors. Requiring the Potomac Water Filtration Plant to get on board with the
mandates of the Clean Water Act (CWA)

including the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River TMDLs

and devise a way to produce drinking water without worsening the health of t
he Potomac River and
Chesapeake Bay, is essential.

Prior to filing their case, and as required by federal law, plaintiffs first submitted to WSSC, as well as state
and federal regulators, a 60
day notice of intent to sue letter (NOI), dated November 13, 2
013. The
lawsuit filed today seeks penalties for illegal discharges and other violations of WSSC’s permit and asks
the Court to require WSSC to identify and address the design and operational problems with the solids
treatment unit. In addition, the plaint
iffs hope this litigation will encourage MDE to issue WSSC, sooner
than later, a new NPDES permit with more protective limits and operating conditions.

To see the full Complaint, go to:


Potomac Riverkeeper is a membership organization established in 2000 dedicated to protecting water
quality throughout the Potomac River watershed. Potomac Riverkeeper utilizes a variety of approaches,
including legal action, to ensure the Potomac is again
drinkable, fishable, and swimmable. Potomac
Riverkeeper uses the Clean Water Act and other federal, state and local environmental laws to curb
pollution that damages water quality in the Potomac. It has trained over 300 local citizens to serve as

Riverwatchers throughout the watershed, and is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

With its founding in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) became the only regional conservation
organization committed solely to Saving the Bay. CBF is working towa
rd a restored Bay through
legislative advocacy at the national, regional, and state levels; habitat restoration on land and in the
water; carefully chosen legal action as another tool for Bay restoration; strategic public communications
and engagement thro
ughout the watershed; and comprehensive environmental education for students,
teachers, and principals of the region. CBF’s vision is a restored Bay with healthy rivers and clean water;
sustainable populations of crabs, fish, and oysters; thriving water
sed and agricultural economies; and
a legacy of success for our children and grandchildren.

The Environmental Integrity Project ( is a nonpartisan, nonprofit
organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enf
orcement attorneys to advocate for effective
enforcement of environmental laws. EIP has three goals: 1) to provide objective analyses of how the
failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold
deral and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply
with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws. 3


Patrick Mitchell for Environmental

Integrity Project at (703) 276

; Matthew Logan for Potomac Riverkeeper at (301)
7027; John Surrick
for CBF at (443) 482