Users of the George’s Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant who may receive higher bills because of improvements at the plant should understand that those upgrades already are providing substantial, tangible benefits to the health of local residents, as well as to the health of George’s Creek itself. This important fact has been missing from discussions about the rate increases.

George’s Creek historically has been one of the most polluted streams in the state, and local residents have been directly at risk as a result. Last year, the George’s Creek treatment plant discharged 43 million gallons of raw sewage directly into the creek, according to a database maintained by the Maryland Department of Environment. That’s almost twice as much as Baltimore City discharged last year.

Anyone who comes into contact with George’s Creek after such discharges — kids swimming or trying to catch tadpoles, people canoeing, fishing — is at serious risk for illness. Bacteria readings in the creek have been as high as 1,000 times above the standard the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets for safe levels of bacteria in a fresh water stream used for recreation.

Nutrient pollution, a second form of contamination coming from the George’s Creek plant discharges, can also damage the biological health of the stream and waterways downstream, such as the Potomac River. The $28 million project to upgrade the plant is already reversing these dangerous trends. As a result of improvements — operational this spring — the plant can better handle high volumes of stormwater, and expects to discharge substantially less raw sewage into George’s Creek.

Since April, the plant has discharged no sewage, according to county and state records. Those records also show a dramatic drop in bacteria levels downstream of the plant in George’s Creek. The benefits don’t stop there. A scientific report issued this week found that improvements completed years ago to reduce nutrient pollution at the giant Blue Plains wastewater plant in Washington, D.C. have made the Potomac River cleaner than it has been in decades.

Scientists found huge beds of underwater grasses that recovered as the water got cleaner. Those grasses doubled since 1990, in turn cleaning the water and providing habitat for fish, and other aquatic life. The kinds of improvements at the Washington treatment plant were the exact same as were just accomplished at the George’s Creek plant. The creek could rebound in the same way as the lower Potomac — benefiting not only the stream but those residents who enjoy it. I should mention that people across Maryland are helping defray the costs of the George’s Creek upgrades.

We all pay into the “flush fund” once a month and some of that money was used for the George’s Creek project. We too will see benefits — to the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay into which George’s Creek runs. Some have called for postponing nutrient reduction upgrades at other wastewater plants around Maryland until the “flush fee” fund — the Bay Restoration Fund — is more solvent (“Increase in Flush Tax Crazy,” Aug. 3). That would be unfair — cutting off funding and the benefits that follow to other areas after Allegany County has received its share.

The Celanese wastewater plant in Allegany was completed in 2005. The George’s Creek improvements became operational this spring. The county’s third major sewage plant in Cumberland City is expected to be finished next May. All three projects were partially funded with “flush fee” money. We believe these sorts of projects — while sometimes painful to pay for — are still worth the money for the quality of life benefits residents receive.

Kim Coble

Maryland executive director

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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