The sewage treatment plant at Easton is as old-fashioned as some of the weathered farmhouses that dot the sloping fields of Maryland's Talbot County along the bay. But what spills into the Chesapeake from Easton's two slimy, green sewage lagoons is hardly picturesque.
The human waste discharged from those lagoons is so putrid that, since 1981, the city has been under orders from the state health department to hold back its waste during the spring spawning season to give young rockfish a chance to survive.
Easton's outdated lagoon method of treating waste violated water quality standards every month from December 1983, when Maryland pledged to support the Save the Bay campaign, through December 1984, state files show.
For example, the plant discharged more of a form of fecal bacteria than it was supposed to during every month but July and December 1984, and in April, when the discharge was limited because of the spawning season, according to state permit files. On one occasion in September, the plant's discharge exceeded its permissable limit for the bacteria by more than 2,100 percent.
That same year, the plant exceeded its limit on chlorine -- a chemical toxic to young fish -- 51 times in eight months, discharging as much as 140 percent more than the permitted level, state files show.
In 1985, the plant failed to report its monthly discharges -- and any violations -- until November. State officials charged with overseeing the plant were unaware of the lapse until a reporter brought it to their attention.
"There was certainly no attempt to conceal anything at all," Roger Judd, general manager of the Easton Utilities Commission, said of the missing 1985 reports. "We've been open with the state, and since that time our reports have been on time. I can't remember the reason -- either it was an oversight or simply a failure to report them on time."
Judd said many of the 22-year-old plant's fecal bacteria problems arise from thousands of Canada geese that live on the ponds from early fall to late spring.
The standards regulating levels of fecal bacteria and other pollutants "have been raised since the plant was opened , and we have to make additions and improvements to the facility to meet those standards," Judd said. An addition to the plant designed to clean waste by filtering it through "vegetated" slopes will be in operation by the end of next year, he said.