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Back River water quality impacting businesses, conservation efforts

Posted at 6:18 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 18:30:30-04

ESSEX, Md (WMAR) — The state has taken over a Baltimore City wastewater treatment plant because of illegal sewage discharge violations, and people who work along and on the Back River hope things will finally turn around. Otherwise, they worry about lasting damage to the local economy and ecology of the river.

“There’s all kinds of businesses on Back River and if you keep messing it up, it’s not gonna be good for the income of the state, the county or everybody else,” said Sam Weaver, owner of Weaver’s Marine Service.

Sunday, Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment announced the state would start overseeing operations of Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, and instead of Baltimore City DPW, the Maryland Environmental Service, which runs all state-owned wastewater treatment plants, would take over operations.

It stemmed from multiple inspections that found lots of broken down equipment and operational issues that were leading to solids being discharged into the Back River—a violation of their permit.

MORE: Sewage discharges, broken equipment prompt state takeover of city wastewater treatment plant

This, despite a $430 million dollar investment into the plant over the last few years to address sewage overflows by constructing new equipment and storage.

“They gotta clean up their act and start maintaining what they are doing over there. You can have the best equipment in the world. If you don’t maintain it, you got nothing,” said Weaver.

Sewage discharges, broken equipment prompt state takeover of city wastewater treatment plant

He knows a thing or two about maintenance. His father built Weaver’s Marine Service in Essex off the Back River in 1945. 77 years later, Weaver carries on the family business with a looming fear that he might lose it all because of the sewage.

“It will put me out of business eventually,” said Weaver. “After Isabel, we spent $1.5 million on docks and this not helping out slip rental. We rent slips by the year and people are not gonna wanna keep their boat in place where they have to watch sewage float by.”

Not only is it bad for his business, but for his organization, Maryland Waterways Foundation, that works to clean up trash in the river.

“We have hundreds of volunteers and sponsors and people who donate money to us to continue what we are doing and it’s like it’s all in vain if they’re gonna let this crap happen,” said Weaver.

Fisherman Scott Sewell knows this feeling too. He is the conservation director for Maryland Bass Nation, an organization of fisherman working to conserve fish stocks through fish propagation, improving water quality and investigating fish kills.

“It’s disheartening to go out, solicit money, get fish. We do projects for structure for bass, and put them in the rivers and then have something like this come along and wipe out our efforts,” said Sewell.

Sewell focuses on a stocking program to enhance largemouth bass fishing in the upper bay. He said people have requested that they stock bass in the Back River but they can’t safely invest there because of the plant issues.

“If the water quality is bad and they die, then it’s all for naught,” said Sewell.

They have faith in MES to fix the issues and restore the water quality.

“If it’s fixed, we will be looking at it as a place to stock fish and expand the fishery,” said Sewell.