Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Sends Stormwater Permit Back to Maryland Department of Environment

Decision states that the permit lacks clarity, doesn’t fulfill clean water requirements


Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5221

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ronald B. Rubin ruled on Wednesday that a permit issued by the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) for the Montgomery County storm sewer system violated the law because it doesn’t fulfill clean water requirements. Among the judge’s determinations is a ruling that the state violated the law by failing to have specific limits on stormwater pollution discharges.

“We are pleased that the Judge has sent MDE back to the drawing board with this stormwater permit. A permit that lacks specific requirements for reducing water pollution makes no sense at all,” said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez. “This ruling makes clear that the state violated the law by failing to impose specific requirements to reduce discharges of harmful nutrients, sediment, and bacteria that are harming the county’s rivers and streams.”

The ruling stems from a case filed by public interest law firm Earthjustice on behalf of the Anacostia Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper, Friends of the Earth, Waterkeeper Alliance, Pat Munoz and Mac Thornton. The challenge involved a state-issued pollution discharge permit for Montgomery County’s 499-square mile stormwater system. Clean water groups contend the permit allows ongoing harm to water quality and human health due to excessive discharges of pollutants and trash into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers watersheds. MDE itself found that, to meet the state’s own standards, Montgomery County’s stormwater discharges of sediment would need to be reduced by 46 percent, nitrogen and phosphorus by 79 percent, and fecal bacteria by 96 percent.

“This is a major victory for clean water and for the Anacostia,” said Mike Bolinder, the Anacostia Riverkeeper. “There’s been lots of big talk about restoring the Anacostia but it won’t get clean by talking about it. It’s going to need strong stormwater permits and monitoring requirements that show whether we’re making progress.”

“The hundreds of whitewater enthusiasts who experience Montgomery County stormwater with a splash in the face welcome the decision to hold the county to measurable and effective improvements in stormwater management,” said Mac Thornton, a plaintiff and member of Potomac Riverkeeper.

“The court affirmed our contentions that stormwater permits in Montgomery County must comply with the Clean Water Act. This is a victory for the Anacostia, Maryland waters and for clean water enforcement across the country,” said Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth.

“For far too long the Anacostia and Potomac watersheds have been inundated with pollution,” said Kelly Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “With this ruling we call on MDE to finally come up with a plan that sufficiently addresses the exact sources of this pollution.” 

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