WSSC requests exemption from having to store 125,000 tons of sludge -- Gazette.Net


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Lawmakers from Maryland’s Washington suburbs and officials of the water and sewer system that serves them are looking for a little give and take in the upcoming legislative session.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves 1.8 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, wants an exemption from the state’s new nutrient management regulations.

The WSSC also wants lawmakers to give the two counties’ councils authority to increase the pay of the six commissioners who oversee governance of the water and sewer utility, if the two governing bodies can agree on a salary supplement.

Meanwhile, lawmakers want to require the WSSC to notify the public and post warning signs when waterways are affected by sewage pipe leaks. They also want drinking water and effluents tested for toxins that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has added to its list of unregulated contaminants, and they want the utility to pay higher prevailing wages on more contracts and offer an on-bill financing program to help customers pay for installing water conservation equipment.

The WSSC’s nutrient exemption request was filed late and awaits votes in the counties’ state House delegations, which will decide whether to accept it for consideration and a hearing.

The regulations the WSSC wants to avoid came from the Maryland Department of Agriculture and are aimed at preventing fertilizer that is not absorbed by crops in the late fall and winter from polluting waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

But the water and sewer utility says the new regulations would force them to store 125,000 tons of treated sewage sludge somewhere in the two counties during the five and half months when the state would bar the biosolids, used as fertilizer, from being spread on fields.

According to WSSC officials, finding a site would be difficult and building storage could cost nearly $90 million, a steep and unnecessary price to pay, they contend, when the utility is spending tens of millions of dollars to upgrade its technology to remove most nutrients. The utility also is moving toward the use of advanced processes to reduce biosolids and convert waste to power to run wastewater treatment plants.

“Delegates in both counties might well be concerned about storage, but it might not be as easy to get delegates from outside the two counties” to share those concerns, said Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Dist. 19) of Derwood.

In July, Noelle Anuskiewicz, Anne Arundel County’s wastewater operations program manager, said the county could not get storage built by 2016 and would have to move more than 1,200 truckloads of biosolids through neighborhoods during a two-month season.

Smaller wastewater and livestock operations have until 2020 to build storage.

According to the WSSC’s position statement, minority-owned trucking firms also would lose work because there are not enough of them to haul all the biosolids that would be moved during the shortened season when spreading would be undertaken.

MDA spokeswoman Julie Oberg said the department’s new nutrient management regulations are essential to Maryland’s role in restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by 2025.

“To exempt one of these sources, such as the WSSC, compromises the objective of the regulations,” Oberg said in an email.

As for its request to allow the counties to pay WSSC commissioners more than the amounts now set in state law –– $13,000 for members and $13,500 for the commission chairman –– the utility notes that the salaries have not been raised since 1990.

Adjustments for inflation would boost the pay to $22,000, according to a compensation committee appointed by the commissioners. That committee reported that the six WSSC commissioners estimated that they have spent more than 1,300 hours annually on the utility’s business.

mhyslop@gazette.net