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Press contact: NRDC, Melanie Shepherdson, 202-289-2393, or Elliott Negin, 202-289-2405; WSSC, Chuck Brown, 301-206-8188; Audubon Naturalist Society, Neal Fitzpatrick, 301-652-9188 x34; Anacostia Watershed Society, Robert Boone or Jim Connolly, 301-699-6204; Friends of Sligo Creek, Ann Hoffnar, 301-585-8891
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WSSC REACHES AGREEMENT WITH EPA AND CONSERVATIONISTS ON SEWER OVERFLOWS

Multi-year plan accelerates $350 million in improvements to sewer system

BLADENSBURG, MD (July 26, 2005) -- The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) today announced an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the State of Maryland and four conservation groups on a multi-year action plan to significantly minimize, and eliminate where possible, sewer overflows. The comprehensive 12-year plan settles a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of EPA regarding overflows in WSSC's wastewater collection system. The four conservation groups served WSSC with a notice of intent to sue for violations of the Clean Water Act in September 2004, prompting DOJ to file suit on behalf of EPA in November 2004.

"We have worked closely with our partners at the federal, state and local levels to develop a proactive plan that will augment our existing efforts to maintain, identify and repair problem areas within our 5,200-mile sewer system," said WSSC General Manager Andy Brunhart. "This comprehensive plan will enhance our ability to meet the public health needs of our customers and return clean water to our environment."

Brunhart announced the agreement this morning at the historic Bladensburg Waterfront Park on the Anacostia River in Prince George's County. Joining him were U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen, Lieutenant Governor Michael S. Steele and representatives from the Anacostia Watershed Society, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Audubon Naturalist Society and Friends of Sligo Creek.

The agreement accelerates $350 million in improvements to WSSC's wastewater collection system, provides $4.4 million for additional environment improvement projects and includes a $1.1 million civil penalty.

"This action plan is a critical part of our effort to ensure the safety of our water supply and to clean up the Anacostia River, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay," said Van Hollen, who co-chairs the Congressional Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force. "This is an important milestone in restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed."

"This is an important step in improving the health of Maryland's waterways, which is a top priority of the Ehrlich-Steele Administration," said Lt. Governor Steele. "We must remain committed to protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay and the tributaries like the Anacostia River that feed in to the Chesapeake Bay. Protecting our waterways is crucial to preserving the quality of life of Maryland's citizens."

Highlights of the comprehensive $350 million plan include:

  • Cleaning and inspecting 1,120 miles of sewer mains in five years via closed circuit television;

  • Inspecting 625 miles of large sewer mains (15-inch diameter +) via video and specialized tests;

  • Cleaning and/or surveying 1,540 miles of sewers in five years;

  • Continuing comprehensive sewer surveys in 10 sewer basins in Montgomery and Prince George's counties within eight years using state-of-the-art technology to capture data on rainfall, wastewater flows, the conditions of pipes and manholes and areas where sewer mains have become exposed due to creek/stream erosion;

  • Completing rehabilitation work identified by inspections and surveys in 10 years;

  • Conducting semi-annual water quality monitoring throughout both Counties;

  • Enhancing existing Fats, Oils and Grease Program, including permitting and increased inspection of grease-abatement equipment in more than 5,000 food establishments in both Counties within five years;

  • Increasing public notification about sewer overflows, including on WSSC's web site; and

  • Reducing basement backups and developing an enhanced emergency response plan to better handle backups.

"This mutual partnership between plaintiffs, defendants, citizens and WSSC will help protect the health of our local streams, and the people who use and enjoy them. It will also address the issue of dangerous sewer backups in citizens' basements," said Robert Boone, President, Anacostia Watershed Society.

"This agreement will go a long way to protect the health of area residents," said Melanie Shepherdson, an NRDC attorney. "WSSC agreed to establish a system to monitor pipe breaks and sewer overflows, which will allow them to fix them faster, and notify the public when there's a problem. Public notification and accountability are key."

Environmental Projects to be completed in a five-year timeframe include:

  • Enhancing existing source water protection efforts through the purchase of buffer property around WSSC's Patuxent River Reservoirs ($3.3 million);

  • Enhancing existing nitrogen reduction efforts in colder months (Oct. 15 - March 30) at WSSC's Western Branch Wastewater Treatment Plant in Prince George's County ($450,000); and

  • Reducing extraneous flow into the WSSC's wastewater collection system by identifying and removing private property areaway drains, gutters/downspouts and sump pumps that are improperly connected to the sewer system ($600,000).

"The real winners in this settlement are the citizens of Prince George's and Montgomery Counties," said Neal Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, Audubon Naturalist Society.

"This settlement agreement is an important win for all concerned, the parties to the suit and, even more importantly, the children and families who can enjoy a healthier environment," said Ann Hoffnar, Co-President, Friends of Sligo Creek."

All parties have signed the agreement. The document will be available for public review and comment in approximately two weeks. After the 30-day public review period, the agreement is finalized.

Based on a recent EPA report to Congress, WSSC is below the national average for sewer overflows.

Following the announcement, officials toured an extensive display of WSSC equipment and technology used to inspect, clean and repair sewer mains.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) is a non-profit environmental organization working to protect and restore the Anacostia River and its watershed. AWS seeks to fulfill its mandate of a swimmable and fishable river through its programs of education, action and advocacy.

The Audubon Naturalist Society of the Central Atlantic States, Inc. fosters stewardship of the Washington region's environment by educating citizens about the natural world, promoting conservation of biodiversity, and protecting natural habitat. Founded in 1897, the independent, non-profit Society focuses its efforts in the mid-Atlantic region.

The Friends of Sligo Creek (FOSC) is a local, volunteer organization with 500 active members. FOSC is committed to restoring to health the water quality, natural habitat and ecological well-being of the 8-mile creek and its watershed by bringing neighbors together to build awareness, improve natural habitat and protect the community's heritage.

Related Materials for the Press
July 26, 2005, Statement by Melanie Shepherdson, NRDC staff attorney

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