Proposed State Permit for Baltimore City Storm Water Pollution

Environmental groups call for key permit to be strengthened to uphold state commitment to reduce pollution


Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5221


Tina Meyers, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, (716) 465-6933

A proposed new water pollution permit for Baltimore City issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment would fail to adequately reduce the severe pollution that continues to degrade Baltimore Harbor, according to two leading environmental groups, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper and the public interest law firm Earthjustice.

Baltimore Harbor. The permit fails to require that pollution discharges adhere to already-established limits for such things as bacteria, nutrients and metals. (Lynn Wallenstein)

“The people of Baltimore deserve a fishable and swimmable Harbor, as required under the Clean Water Act. The state must strengthen this permit to include enforceable limits that prevent continued pollution from sewage discharges and storm water runoff,” said Tina Meyers, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper with the group Blue Water Baltimore. “This permit must include specific deadlines and requirements if Baltimore, and Maryland generally, have any hope for meeting critically important goals for reducing pollution flowing into the Chesapeake.”

Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper and Earthjustice will work with state environmental officials to improve the draft permit and will submit formal comments about its deficiencies. The proposed permit governs pollution discharges from Baltimore City’s storm sewer system, which drains the city’s 87-square-mile area and serves more than 600,000 residents and many more visitors.

Under Maryland law and the federal Clean Water Act, water pollution permits are required to ensure that all permitted pollution discharges comply with the standards adopted by Maryland for protection of the state’s waters. After reviewing the permit, the groups have concluded that the permit falls far short of legal requirements and fails to live up to Maryland’s commitment to clean up its share of pollution impairing the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are disappointed that after a long delay, the Department of the Environment has proposed a weak permit that stubbornly adheres to practices that are known to be ineffective at stopping polluted urban storm runoff from entering Baltimore’s waterways,” said Jennifer Chavez, attorney with Earthjustice. “Scientific data and common sense dictate that we cannot keep throwing the same old ineffective practices at our pollution problems. The permit must be revised and strengthened.”

The groups have concluded that the permit:

  • Fails to require that pollution discharges adhere to already-established limits for such things as bacteria, nutrients and metals, making it harder to achieve water-quality goals.
  • Does not require Baltimore City to use updated best practices to control storm water pollution. This will allow the city to continue to rely on outdated practices that are ineffective and expensive to maintain, such as the use of storm water retention ponds.
  • Would require significantly less monitoring of pollution in streams throughout Baltimore than needed to determine compliance. The draft permit would require in-stream pollution testing in only one stream.
  • Lacks specific and enforceable goals for reducing the amount of pollution being discharged.

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