The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission is facing a lawsuit brought by environmental groups who say the utility is destroying the health of the Potomac River.
Attorneys from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Environmental Integrity Project, which represents the Potomac Riverkeeper, filed a lawsuit against the commission Wednesday.
The attorneys said a WSSC water filtration plant near Seneca, south of Poolesville, is discharging millions of pounds of sediment and aluminum into the Potomac River instead of treating it and transporting it to a facility for disposal. The Potomac Water Filtration Plant provides water for much of Montgomery County and parts of Prince George’s County.
WSSC released a statement in response to the lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.
“The commission believes the discharges cited by the Riverkeeper during normal operations and high volume rain events comply with WSSC’s existing permit issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment,” the utility’s spokeswoman, Lyn Riggins, said in an email.
Matthew Logan is president of Potomac Riverkeeper, an organization dedicated to protecting the quality of water in the Potomac River watershed. Logan said his organization reviews discharge permits in the Potomac River watershed routinely. This issue came to their attention about a year ago.
“When you see something like this that’s so egregious ... and for so long, it certainly captures our attention,” he said.
According to documents filed by their attorneys, the discharges have affected the Potomac River for at least the last four years. The plant’s solids treatment facility, which would process the sediment in question, came online in 2002 but is ineffective, according to attorneys for the environmental groups.
The lawsuit seeks penalties for illegal discharges and asks the court to require WSSC to address issues with the solids treatment unit. They also ask the state Department of the Environment to issue WSSC a more strict permit to replace their currrent one, which has expired.
WSSC has filed an application to renew its permit with the state Department of the Environment, Riggins said, but the commission said it would not comment on pending litigation.