39 violations are found at sewage plant

Temperature of effluent was too high, state says

Hampstead

September 17, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The state filed a complaint this week in Carroll County Circuit Court claiming that the discharge from the county's wastewater treatment plant in Hampstead exceeded temperature requirements 39 times this summer.

Data collected last month weren't included.

The plant discharges treated sewage, called effluent, into Piney Run, a stream whose name changes to Western Run in Baltimore County, where it feeds into Loch Raven Reservoir.

The Maryland Department of the Environment requires the county to monitor the temperature of the effluent and to report any increase above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).

For nine days in June and nearly all of July, the temperature of the treated sewage exceeded that level, although rarely by more than one degree.

The county could be fined as much as $10,000 for each violation.

The complaint also says the county did not report the violations in a timely manner and that its monitoring equipment was improperly situated in the stream.

The county has moved the equipment but has been unable to find a vendor able to measure the temperature hourly, as the state requires.

"Our expectations are to continue negotiating with Carroll County in regard to [its discharge] permit and the violations," said Jeffrey Welsh, an MDE spokesman. "The county has to live up to the terms of its discharge permit, and that means meeting temperature requirements."

Carroll must also report violations by phone within 24 hours and in a written report within five days, he said. The complaint says the county did not follow proper reporting procedures and instead forwarded two months' worth of data that showed numerous violations.

The state requires the county to "immediately download data" from monitors in the stream, evaluate it and report violations, Welsh said.

"We averaged 21 degrees on the hottest days," said Vivian Laxton, the county public information administrator.

Pursuing options

Carroll officials are pursuing several options that could eliminate the temperature increases, she said. Chillers that would cool the effluent before it is discharged would be the most costly option and one that could violate the state's noise levels.

Officials are also reviewing a geothermal system that could pump sewage into the ground.

"We are working on a cost estimate for the geothermal option and will know within a month if it is feasible," Laxton said.

Perhaps the most practical and economical solution is to run a line from the plant to Deep Run, a nearby stream that is cooler than Piney Run. Deep Run contains no trout, which environmentalists say are harmed by the effluent.

The state allowed the county to proceed with plans to increase the plant's daily discharge from 500,000 to 900,000 gallons last year if the plant adhered to temperature requirements.

Carroll is appealing those requirements and working on the options.

"We have been talking with the state regularly, and we are working on several innovative ideas," Laxton said. "We are not hurting the stream. We are just trying to figure out one way or another how to meet the requirements."

In the meantime, the county faces the possibility of thousands of dollars in fines.

"We customarily seek the maximum the law provides," Welsh said. "It is up to the judge to set the actual fine."

The plant, which began operating near Hampstead in 1975, has sparked a bitter battle between Carroll County officials, who want to serve the growing Route 30 corridor with water and sewer facilities, and Baltimore County residents in the rural communities east of the plant, who say the effluent harms the stream.

Carroll has been entangled for eight years in three lawsuits filed by the Baltimore County-based Piney Run Preservation Association.

Previous fines

A federal judge said the discharges violated the Clean Water Act and fined the county $400,000 more than three years ago.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision two years ago. The plant has had "no negative impact" on trout in the stream, the decision said.

Fish are flourishing, according to a 2000 report from the state Department of Natural Resources, which found that the number of brown trout in the stream had increased "exponentially."

The preservation group reported the latest temperature violations to the MDE and prompted the investigation, Welsh said.

"The numbers showed the county was in violation, and we acted," Welsh said.

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