- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

ANNAPOLIS Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening will issue an executive order today aimed at stopping billions of gallons of sewage from flowing into the Potomac River, from which most of the Washington metropolitan area draws its drinking water.

His order, also aimed at protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, creates a panel to set priorities and find funds to upgrade outmoded, crumbling sewage systems responsible for making parts of the Potomac unsafe for swimming, by state standards, in places from west of Cumberland to Whites Ferry in Montgomery County just above Great Falls.

In that stretch of the river, fecal-coliform levels a measure that indicates contamination from human or animal waste ranged last year from 100 to 1,000 bacteria per 100 milliliters, according to Maryland Department of the Environment officials.

Intakes for Washington-area water utilities are below Great Falls. Upriver contamination comes largely from five sewer systems in Allegany County, Cumberland, Frostburg, Westernport and LaVale. In those communities, where storm-water and sewer systems are combined, heavy rains flush sewage into waterways. Salisbury and Baltimore are also looking for financial aid in replacing combined sewer systems.

"Eventually the health of the Potomac and health of the Bay impact the health of those communities," Glendening spokesman Mike Morrill said.

Mr. Morrill said the panel can help coordinate efforts to upgrade sewers, which could cost up to $1 billion in Maryland alone, throughout the region.

Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat, agreed.

"It's my hope that in reaching out to our neighboring states, [we] will initiate a regional movement to identify needs and seek funding to upgrade aging sewerage systems throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed," Mr. Frosh said.

The District's combined sewer systems dumped more than 2 billion gallons last year into the Anacostia River and Rock Creek.

Aging sewer systems are a looming problem for communities across the nation.

"A lot will have to rely on what happens at the federal level," Mr. Morrill said.

Delegate Jean Cryor, Montgomery County Republican, called the move "the best news for the Potomac River in years … maybe decades."

"The river has been allowed to be used and abused by communities who didn't have the resources," Mrs. Cryor said. "It's time the federal government came forward with some money. As a Republican, I'll be glad to help."

Maryland last year filed suit against Cumberland, Allegany County, Frostburg and Westernport to force them to set dates for improving their systems a task Cumberland officials said could cost that city $40 million.

Maryland environmental officials directed municipal sewer-system managers to document and report overflows an action required because many sewer systems weren't measuring it.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will lead the panel, which is directed to deliver its report by Dec. 1.

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