City wastewater woes: what's gone wrong at Back River and Patapsco
Today, a conversation about problems with Baltimore’s water system. Aging infrastructure, ineffective accounting and billing, and high costs to rate-payers are just some of the challenges facing the City's Department of Public Works (DPW).
Two weeks ago, problems got worse. The Maryland Secretary of the Environment, Ben Grumbles, ordered that the authority over the operations of the Back River wastewater treatment plant be taken away from the city, and transferred to the state. Late last month, state inspectors found that the Back River plant was discharging polluted water in violation of the Clean Water Act. Their scathing report on the plant cited "the precipitous decline of the functioning of several critical processes at the Plant in comparison with prior inspections.”
Yesterday, when Tom asked Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott about why problems at the city-owned Back River and Patapsco wastewater treatment plants hadn’t been addressed, the mayor noted that the problems pre-date his administration:
"We know the Back River and Patapsco wastewater issues in Baltimore, the issues have been there, you know, they don't just predate my administration, but the administration that came before me and the one that came before that, and the one that came before that. We are committed to working with MDE and MES to get this facility into compliance. I actually personally met with the secretary right before this decision was made, and said that we want to continue to work with them.
But we know this is not an overnight fix. We're going to work collaboratively with them to combine resources to ensure that we're being good stewards of this service, right? And making sure that we are supporting our Chesapeake Bay. We know that there are supply-chain issues and staffing shortages that have made getting Back River...into compliance difficult."
— Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, speaking with Tom Hall here on Midday, yesterday.
We think it’s important to know what’s going on at these wastewater facilities, why these alleged violations of the Clean Water Act are serious, and what the city is going to have to do to solve these longstanding problems.
To help us understand, Tom invited two environmental advocates to join us for part of the hour today.