- The Washington Times - Monday, November 26, 2001

The Army Corps of Engineers violated Maryland state law and Washington's water quality standards when it discharged chlorine, toxic to fish, into area waterways, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) initiated its review of several discharges in Little Falls Branch after it was first reported by The Times. Little Falls Branch runs through the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park.
The MDE's investigation showed the discharges violated state laws, and it listed numerous other problems at the Washington Aqueduct, which is operated by the Corps.
The Corps also conducts regular discharges of sludge at three points along the Potomac River in the District, and admits to rinsing the sedimentation basins with finished or potable water.
"If finished water is used in the flushing process, the discharge contains chlorine, presently in the form of chloramine used in the disinfection process," Jerusalem Bekele, program manager of the District's Water Quality Division said in a letter to the Corps.
The existing permit for the Dalecarlia and Georgetown reservoirs contains no provisions for the discharge of chlorine "in any form," Miss Bekele said.
"We are requesting that you immediately initiate action to ensure that no chlorine is discharged to the Potomac River," Miss Bekele said.
The Maryland discharges occurred on Aug. 11 and 18, each measuring four times the state's allowable limit. In the District, at least seven discharges have occurred between January and August.
"Possible penalties" for the Maryland violations were suggested in the MDE report, but a spokesman said they are barred from doing so by federal law.
"Under the stipulation of the Clean Water Act, Maryland cannot assess a penalty against the federal government," said spokesman Rich McIntire.
"They have acknowledged the deficiencies and are developing a plan to address those concerns," Mr. McIntire said.
In response to the inspection's findings, the Corps said that they "now fully understand MDE's present interpretation of the permit and intend to comply with this interpretation."
The Corps has changed its dechlorination procedures to ensure chlorine residuals do not exceed the requirements, said Tom Jacobus, aqueduct chief.
"They do understand and they have to contact us under the self-reporting requirement," Mr. McIntire said.
However, documentation obtained by The Times shows an additional discharge for maintenance activities also occurred on July 30, and MDE was not informed during its September inspection.
The Corps conducted discharges on Oct. 15, 17 and 19 as well, but again the MDE was not informed.
"Our staff said we don't have any knowledge of those, presently," Mr. McIntire said.
The Corps reports no chlorine was discharged on those dates, but at least two witnesses reported a strong smell of chlorine on or around those dates.
"It smelled like a swimming pool, a smell you shouldn't be noting of a discharge going through a national park," said Rob Gordon, executive director of the National Wilderness Institute.
The conservation group has filed a notice of intent to sue the Corps and other federal agencies involved for violating the Clean Water Act.
The MDE also found inadequate monitoring records and reports, and that sampling frequency did not meet minimum requirements. Lab equipment calibration could not be verified, and the number and location of discharge points did not reflect the pollution-prevention plan.
"Can you imagine if a private company didn't bother to keep records of discharges regulated under the Clean Water Act, or file the required reports or take proper measurements?" Mr. Gordon asked.
"If anybody other than the federal government did this, they would be dead meat," Mr. Gordon said.


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