Press Release: Maryland General Assembly Strengthens Clean Water Protections

Three bills improve regulations and enforcement under Clean Water Act

(Takoma Park, MD) – This week, the Maryland General Assembly passed three important bills on climate adaptation, citizen intervention, and environmental enforcement reporting that will lead to stronger implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act protections. 

“Next year is the 50th anniversary of the passage of the federal Clean Water Act, and as these three bills demonstrate, the ways a state implements and enforces this act is critical to reaching the goal of fishable, swimmable, and safe drinking water for everyone,” said Betsy Nicholas executive director at Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “This legislation will ensure that Maryland’s clean water regulations and enforcement will be transparent and incorporate data based on our new climate reality.” 

The Climate Adaptation bill (SB 227/HB 295) sponsored by Sen. Sarah Elfreth (District 30) and Del. Sara Love (District 16) will bring Maryland’s development and stormwater management regulations into the 21st century. 

Extreme flooding events and frequent sewage backups are evidence that Maryland’s efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and protect local waters and communities from pollution are based on assumptions about a climate that no longer exists. The bill will increase community resilience and mitigate urban and coastal flood impacts by updating Maryland’s stormwater design standards with the most recent precipitation data available, and require climate-smart criteria on private-sector development. The bill codifies Maryland’s commitment to meet climate pollution load requirements by 2025.

Rainfall measured during heavy precipitation events in the Northeastern United States increased by more than 70 percent since the 1990’s,” said Sen. Sarah Elfreth. “Using rainfall data from the 1990’s just doesn’t work now. We need to use data that reflects today’s climate reality to stop extreme flooding and sewage overflows that devastate our communities.”

The Citizen Intervention bill (SB 334/HB 76) introduced by Sen. Jill Carter (District 41) and Del. Sara Love (District 16) ensures that Maryland citizens have the right to intervene guaranteed under the Clean Water Act, leading to cleaner water through stronger enforcement and penalties.

Right now, in Maryland, people and communities who have been harmed by water pollution cannot legally intervene in a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by the state. A decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals years ago made it essentially impossible for environmental groups and other citizens to intervene when the state sues a polluter. As budgets decrease and government oversight is reduced, citizen enforcement of environmental laws is more necessary than ever.

“Community members are usually the first to notice when something is wrong – and they should have the right to demand change when it is needed,” Sen. Jill Carter. “Passage of this bill ensures families and communities who have been harmed by pollution have the right to legally intervene in matters of water quality and pollution, as was originally intended by the Clean Water Act.”

The Environmental Enforcement Reporting Act (SB 324/HB 204) sponsored by Sen. Sarah Elfreth (District 30) and Del. Brooke Lierman (District 46) requires Maryland to keep electronic records of water pollution and enforcement data and make it accessible to the public. Maryland is woefully behind most other states in offering digital records of pollution violations and complaints — this legislation will enhance transparency and accountability.

“It’s great news that with these three bills, Maryland’s families and communities will have better protections from water pollution as intended under the Clean Water Act. Families and communities that have been harmed will be able to access data online and have their stories heard when courts’ are deciding a remedy,” said Morgan Johnson, staff attorney at Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

Media contact: Betsy Nicholas, (202) 423-0504, betsy(at)waterkeeperschesapeake.org