Lawsuit against WSSC for Contaminating the Anacostia River
The Washington Surburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) is the utility that sees that Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties have clean water and a safe sewage system. WSSC has documented over 30 overflows into Maryland rivers and streams for 2004 alone, which translates into over 75,000 gallons of sewage discharged into our waterways so far this year. Many citizens have experienced basement backups and flooding from these sewer overflows, which present a serious health threat to the community. WSSC must take action to address its aging infrastructure, broken pipes and exposed manholes, to stop raw sewage from threatening our citizens' health and well-being. WSSC can combat the overflow problem by creating an upgrade and maintenance comprehensive plan for its collections and piping system.
These overflow problems have been known for some time. For many months, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have been negotiating with the WSSC because their failure to prevent sanitary sewer overflows violates the Federal Clean Water Act. The overflows also violate Maryland law.
Broken sewer line leaking into Sligo Creek
at New Hampshire Avenue
Some of us think the negotiations are going too slowly and have formed a coalition to work toward a solution. The coalition plans to urge WSSC-through negotiation or, failing that, legal action-to remedy the sanitary sewer overflows discharging into the rivers and streams in Maryland. Coalition members are concerned about human waste being discharged into our waterways and the health impacts that are associated with human waste and sewage in waterbodies that are used for recreation in Maryland.
Our Friends of Sligo Creek Board has resolved to join the coalition, now called Marylanders for Sewage Free Streams. Others in the coalition are the Anacostia Watershed Society, the Audubon Naturalist Society, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Other groups are being invited to join.
The coalition would like to work with WSSC to generate and implement a plan to upgrade its aging collection system and to find additional revenue sources to fund the plan over a reasonable length of time. It is imperative that WSSC address this problem now because the system is continuing to deteriorate, and the solution will take a long time to implement. Our sewer system should provide effective sewage treatment to protect the health and safety of ratepayers and downstream users of the waterways.
Back to top
January 2005 Update
The federal government's complaint began the lawsuit against WSSC. It describes the Clean Water Act violations from the sanitary sewer overflows and states what the government expects WSSC to do to fix the problems. The Coalition's complaint in intervention also notes the violations, describes why Friends of Sligo Creek and the other environmental groups should be parties in the suit, and says what we are seeking. Those two documents are posted here. Other court documents are also available. If you want to see them, contact Ann Hoffnar E-mail or 301-585-8891.
US Government's Complaint against WSSC (PDF)
Coalition's Intervenor Complaint against WSSC (PDF)
Back to top
July 2005 Update
On July 26, The WSSC and the coalition of environmental groups (who had been given intervenor status by the courts) held a press conference to announce that a settlement had been reach. The U.S. and State Government groups did not participate in this press conference but issued a release of their own. The settlement describes a multi-year plan which accelerates $350 million in improvements to the sewer system. It is a great achievement for all involved and will benefit our watershed. The decree itself is over 100 pages long. If you are interested in seeing it, contact Ann Hoffnar E-mail.
US EPA/DOJ and MDE press release (MS Word document)
Notice of Lodging of Consent Decree (PDF)
Friends of Sligo Creek Statement (MS Word document)
Back to top
Case Settled December 7, 2005
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, Montgomery and Prince Georges
Counties - On December 7, 2005 a civil consent decree between Defendant
Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) and Plaintiffs the State of
Maryland (MDE) and the United States of America (EPA) and
Plaintiff-Intervenors (Anacostia Watershed Society, Audubon Naturalist
Society of the Central Atlantic States, Inc., Friends of Sligo Creek,
Natural Resources Defense Council, and Patuxent River Keeper), was entered
in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland regarding
elimination of sanitary sewer overflows from the WSSC sanitary sewer
collection system. Under the terms of the consent decree, WSSC is required
to implement over the next 14 years numerous reporting, monitoring,
inspection, maintenance, repair and replacement remedial measures for its
sewer collection system in order to eliminate sewer overflows. WSSC is also
required to pay a civil penalty to the Maryland Clean Water Fund of $550,000
and a penalty of $550,000 to the United States Treasury. In addition, WSSC
is required to perform supplemental environmental projects in the amount of
$4.4 million toward the purchase or acquisition of Patuxent Reservoir buffer
properties and easements for water supply protection; private property
inflow elimination; and Western Branch Wastewater Treatment Plant winter
denitrification through methanol addition. WSSC is also required to pay
stipulated penalties to MDE and EPA for future sanitary sewer overflows and
violations of consent order requirements. Status: Case closed. (Reference #
Civil Action No. PJM-04-3679).
Web Reference: Water Management Administration
Back to top