News Feature | February 27, 2014

Lawsuit Lands Utility In Federal Court

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

The Brighton Damn is operated by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

Environmentalists are going after a top Maryland water utility with a lawsuit in federal court. 

The attack is against the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), owner of the Potomac Water Filtration Plant, which provides drinking water for most of the residents in Maryland's Montgomery County and parts of Prince George’s County. 

The suit is being waged by the Potomac Riverkeeper and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), according to a release. The groups claim that the plant is responsible for illegal discharges into the Potomac River and other violations of the Clean Water Act.

The WSSC responded to the allegations in a statement printed in The Gazette: “The commission believes the discharges cited by the Riverkeeper during normal operations and high volume rain events comply with WSSC’s existing permit issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment."

The environmental groups allege that the utility illegally discharged "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-site," the groups said in their release. They argued that these activities violate a state permit. 

The environmental advocates suggested that the alleged problems may be a function of plant operations. 

“I have the sense that the sludge-treatment facility never worked as efficiently as it was designed,” said Mary Greene, an attorney working on the case, in the Post. “There seem to be some operational and design problems with it. I think that has largely led to their practices of discharging much more frequently than they’re allowed to under the permit.”

Utilities may discharge some materials into the river when it is running high, the report said. "The environmental groups — the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Potomac Riverkeeper — allege in the lawsuit that the treatment plant has discharged sludge at times not covered by the high-water exception and that the excess sediment is a major stressor to aquatic plant and animal life."  

Check out the full complaint here

For more coverage of utilities, check out Water Online's Wastewater Solution Center

Image credit: "Brighton Dam," © 2014 SchuminWeb, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:

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