EPA Sued Over Pollution of Baltimore’s Back River

A tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the Back River is home to several marinas and waterfront parks, including Cox’s Point Park and Rocky Point Park. (Photo by Daniel W Staples, CNS)

BALTIMORE (CN) — Conservationists brought a federal complaint Monday over the government’s failure to determine whether stormwater runoff is polluting Baltimore’s Back River.

A tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the Back River is home to several marinas and waterfront parks, including Cox’s Point Park and Rocky Point Park.

The group Blue Water Baltimore notes, however, that the river’s popularity is marred by manufacturing and industrial sites sitting along the river’s 61-square-mile watershed in Baltimore City and County.

“CII sites occupy approximately 22% percent of the land in the Back River watershed,” the May 8 complaint states, using the abbreviation for commercial, industrial and institutional sites.

Blue Water Baltimore filed the suit in Maryland with the Natural Resources Defense Fund and American Rivers.

“The entire Back River watershed is currently impaired by nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment,” according to the complaint. “As a result, the Back River and its tributary streams are not suitable for their designated uses, which include recreation, fishing, and aquatic and wildlife uses.”

Worried about the river’s badly polluted state, the groups say they petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 to impose permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act.

Some industrial sites along the river do hold these EPA permits, but Blue Water Baltimore says many of the area office buildings and parking lots do not, though they too are pollution sources.

Blue Water Baltimore says the EPA denied its petition last year without making a determination.

A tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, the Back River is home to several marinas and waterfront parks, including Cox’s Point Park and Rocky Point Park. (Photo by Daniel W Staples, CNS)

As quoted in the complaint, the EPA claimed that a permit requirement for unregulated stormwater discharges “is not warranted and would be an inefficient use of already limited resources.”

Blue Water Baltimore and the other groups say that the EPA’s treatment of its petition violated the Clean Water Act. They are represented by NRDC in-house counsel Jared Knicley.

A spokesman for the EPA said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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