WSSC Approves Agreement with MDE and Environmental Groups over Potomac Water Filtration Plant Treatment Process

| News Release



Laurel – October 21, 2015: WSSC’s full Commission today approved a settlement with two environmental groups and the State of Maryland regarding a lawsuit involving the treatment process at its Potomac Water Filtration Plant. The settlement, in the form of a consent decree, has been approved by the environmental groups (Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. and Chesapeake Bay Foundation) and by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). MDE regulates the treatment plant’s operations. The consent decree is subject to review by the U.S. District Court, which is expected in the coming months to issue an order concerning the agreement.

“It is important that we move forward on upgrades to the Potomac plant, while avoiding the uncertainty and unnecessary costs associated with ongoing litigation,” said Jerry Johnson, WSSC’s GM & CEO. “We all share a common goal of maintaining the health and vitality of our region’s waterways. We must also be financially prudent and I believe this consent decree will allow for improvements at the plant that won’t pose a significant burden to our ratepayers.”

WSSC draws over 130 million gallons of water from the Potomac River each day, which includes sediment (also referred to as “suspended solids”) that must be removed as part of the treatment process. Under normal circumstances, most incoming sediment is treated and then   trucked to landfills or made into topsoil.  During heavy rain, however, solids entering the plant overwhelm the plant’s treatment capacity and some treated solids must be discharged back to the river.  (Some solids are also discharged with the plant’s filter backwash and due to scheduled and emergency maintenance operations.)

Under the consent decree, WSSC will undertake a number of short- and long-term steps to reduce the amount of sediment discharged to the river, with an ultimate goal of eliminating virtually all discharges by 2026. WSSC has taken steps to retain an expert (referred to as  an “auditor” in the proposed consent decree) to recommend plant upgrades  that will achieve 50% reduction in discharges by April 1, 2020 at a cost of $8.5 million.  The auditor will also develop a 10-year plan to achieve virtually no-discharge operation by January 2026. By initiating the auditor retention process and submitting deliverables required under the agreement prior to the agreement’s full execution, WSSC demonstrated its commitment to the agreement’s successful implementation.

The consent decree includes a $100,000 civil penalty to be paid by WSSC to MDE, as well as an agreement that WSSC will spend $1 million to fund Supplemental Environmental Projects to improve water quality in the Potomac River.

The Potomac Plant is WSSC’s principal water filtration plant, producing approximately 130 gallons of water per day, or roughly 75 per cent of the water for Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. The Patuxent Plant provides the other 25 percent.  In an emergency, the Potomac Plant could provide water for the entire system for several weeks. The Patuxent Plant does not have that capacity.  On line since the early 60s, the plant underwent a $100 million upgrade which was completed in 2010. It is also important to note that WSSC has never had a drinking water violation during its 97 years of operations.  

WSSC Water is the proud provider of safe, seamless and satisfying water services, making the essential possible every day for our neighbors in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. We work to deliver our best because it’s what our customers expect and deserve.

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