ANNAPOLIS — Baltimore County and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve sewer systems and reduce spills of untreated sewage into Chesapeake Bay tributaries under an agreement announced yesterday by federal and state officials.
Under settlements filed in federal court, Baltimore County will pay a $750,000 penalty and undertake improvements to the sewer system that are expected to cost more than $800 million over the next 14 years. The WSSC will pay a $1.1 million penalty and spend about $200 million over the next 14 years to repair and upgrade its wastewater collection system.
The legal actions were filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and by the state Department of the Environment.
State and federal officials said the two new agreements, along with earlier agreements with Baltimore city and the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, will go a long way toward improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
“No doubt about it, these two settlements are significant both in terms of the resource being protected and the commitment of the community,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, the EPA’s assistant administrator, during a telephone conference call with other federal and state officials.
Mr. Grumbles said cities and counties across the country are having to deal with similar problems because of aging sewer systems that are plagued with leaky pipes and have trouble keeping up with increased sewage loads caused by growth.
Kendl Philbrick, Maryland secretary of the environment, predicted that with the four major settlements — plus agreements with smaller systems in towns such as Frostburg and Cambridge — “there will be great progress here.”
“Over time, you are going to see substantial improvements in water quality in the areas where these problems have existed before,” he said.
Baltimore County has more than 3,000 miles of sewer lines and 110 pumping stations to transport sewage to treatment plants operated by Baltimore city. The state and federal lawsuit said the county violated the Clean Water Act by allowing repeated overflows of tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage into waterways since at least 1997.
The county agreed to take corrective measures to address past problems and problems that might develop in the future by carrying out an extensive rehabilitation of the sewer system.
WSSC agreed to undertake an extensive evaluation of 5,000 miles of sewer pipe, make repairs, develop a better plan to respond to emergencies and regularly test water quality in 24 tributaries of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and Rock Creek.
Both of the proposed consent decrees are subject to a 30-day public comment period and require court approval before taking effect.