Sewage leaks are an all-too-frequent problem in Montgomery County, according to Del. Tom Hucker, a Democrat who represents Takoma Park and Silver Spring in the Maryland General Assembly. How quickly they are cleaned up and whether everyday citizens know to avoid the areas where they occur is a major public health issue, he said.
Hucker drafted two bills aimed at requiring Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission to notify elected officials and residents of leaks. The utility regulates both ends of the water supply—drinking water and sewage—for customers in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.
"We want to give WSSC the strongest incentive possible to address sewage leaks in a very timely fashion to protect public health," Hucker told Patch.
If passed, MC/PG 114-13 would require the water company to post notices in places where the public might come into contact with contaminated water, places like Sligo Creek Park, a parking lot or a playground.
"If people aren't aware of that, they let their kids wade in the creek, they let their dogs play in the creek," Hucker said. "Even a drop of sewage can be very, very dangerous."
A companion bill, MC/PG 115-13, would instruct WSSC to notify elected officials, including county executives and mayors, when there is a sewage leak. Hucker said it was suggested by Takoma Park City Council member Tim Male, who found out about a leak after the fact. Currently, the utility is required to send notifications of sewage leaks to county health departments only, Hucker said.
Hucker is also sponsoring a bill that would enact quarterly testing of the drinking water for contaminents using the most updated list of potential hazards supplied by the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill also requests that WSSC share the results of the tests with county health departments.
"There are new industrial chemicals that come into use and get into our environment as industry starts to use them more frequently," Hucker said. "It's important that we should ask WSSC to test our drinking water."
According to WSSC's website, they test water for different substances regularly, but the exact frequency depends on the particular contaminant.
"For example, dozens of samples per day are tested for bacteria, but some rare exotic pesticides are monitored merely quarterly," the website states. Yearly tap analysis reports are available online.
The Maryland General Assembly will reconvene Jan. 9 in Annapolis and Hucker said he hopes the bills will receive support from the other Montgomery County lawmakers. Some environmental groups, including Sierra Club and Friends of Sligo Creek, have already given the nod.
A spokesperson for WSSC told Patch that the company has not taken a position on any of the bills yet.
"I don’t think they’ll have very powerful opposition," Hucker said of the bills. "They’re common sense measures that are designed to protect the public health and they address areas that we haven’t been on top of, but they need to do a better job of addressing."
Enacting the proposed testing and reporting standards won't be "terribly burdensome" on WSSC, Hucker said.