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Maryland Superheroes Needed to Battle Illicit Discharges

March 6, 2012

BALTIMORE - When Marylanders flush the toilet or pull a bathtub plug, it's assumed the wastewater goes to a treatment facility. But that's not always the case, as the Center for Watershed Protection discovered during its initial research into flows coming from stormwater pipes draining into local streams and creeks.

Watershed ecologist Lori Lilly, a planner with the Center, says that whenever water is flowing out of those pipes on a dry day, it should be tested.

"Our research has shown that 80 percent of the time there's something in the water that shouldn't be there, and it might be sanitary waste or it might be wash water."

Lilly says the discharge could also be drinking water, or a blend of sources. She says water flowing on rainy days is likely stormwater.

Illicit discharges usually come from leaks, or from pipes not connected correctly, and Lilly finds the fixes are fairly inexpensive compared to other methods of treating pollution. Many communities are facing deadlines to lower the levels of contaminants in waterways that are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Lilly says those living near creeks or streams are encouraged to take note of pipes that end in waterways. She says if there's something coming out of them that looks sudsy or discolored or smells unusual when the weather is dry, call local government offices to get the discharges tested.

"This is something communities can address to remove nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as bacteria, from the local waterways and really make a big impact quickly."

She adds that communities should be given credit or assistance for tackling these sources of pollution, something that currently doesn't happen in the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD