Maryland, U.S. amend agreement with Baltimore City to curtail sewer overflows, improve water quality

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Jay Apperson

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Maryland, U.S. amend agreement with Baltimore City to curtail sewer overflows, improve water quality

Modified consent decree sets timelines for completion of $2 billion in improvements, requires improved public notification of overflows; proposed agreement submitted for court review and public comment, public informational session scheduled

Baltimore, MD (June 1, 2016) – The Maryland Department of the Environment and its federal partners have reached an agreement with Baltimore City to greatly reduce the amount of sewage that overflows in the City within less than five years.

The agreement – a modification to the 2002 consent decree between the Department of the Environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice and the City – would set deadlines for completion of an estimated $2 billion in work by the City to improve its sewer system. It also provides for greater public transparency, including improved public notification by the City of sewage overflows.

The proposed modified consent decree was submitted today for court review and public comment. A public informational session on the proposal is scheduled for next week at the Department of the Environment’s Baltimore headquarters.

The proposed modification establishes a two-phase approach, with an estimated 83 percent of the City’s remaining sewer overflow volume to be eliminated by January 2021 under the first phase. By that date the City would be required to eliminate a flow restriction at the Back River wastewater treatment plant that causes sewage backups and leads to intentional, “structured” overflows at two locations. Those structured overflows to the Jones Falls would also be eliminated by 2021. Completion of this project is expected to significantly reduce sewage backups in homes.

“This mandate for clean water and public accountability means less sewage in basements, streets and waterways and more progress for the Chesapeake Bay,” said Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles. “Upgrading the sewers and greening the City will improve public health and environmental quality, and that’s good news for all of us.”

“We anticipate that the work being performed under the initial phase of this agreement will eliminate the vast majority of the volume of Baltimore’s current wet weather overflows within five years,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “This modification presents the best path forward to eliminating sanitary sewer overflows, while also providing greater transparency.”

Phase I of the project also includes requirements for the City to inspect and, if necessary, clean all sewer lines greater than eight inches in diameter every seven years. The City would also be required to more aggressively identify sewage discharges of unknown origin and repair leaking sewer lines.

After completing Phase I, Baltimore will monitor rainfall and flow in its collection system to assess the performance of the completed projects and develop a Phase II plan. That plan is due by December 2022 and work under that plan is to be completed by December 2030, followed by two years of monitoring.

Negotiations that led to the successful completion of the modified consent decree, with the deadlines it contains, included discussion of the financial effects on lower-income City residents. The anticipated cost of the Phase I projects and projects already completed is $1.4 billion. The cost for Phase II projects is expected to be $615 million.

The modified consent decree provides for greater public transparency by requiring the City to hold annual public forums to report on progress under the consent decree. It also requires the City to revise its Emergency Response Plan. That plan is to include a description of how the City will provide notice to the public of an unpermitted discharge and ensure public notice and reporting to the Department of the Environment of overflows from structured outfalls in accordance with Maryland law.

Sewage overflows typically occur when a large volume of rainwater infiltrates aging sewage lines through breaks and cracks to overwhelm a plant’s ability to treat sewage. Overflows in sanitary sewer systems – systems with separate pipes to carry stormwater and sewage – are illegal.

Baltimore has completed many of the actions required by the original, 2002 consent decree, including: eliminating combined sewers; evaluating sewersheds to propose rehabilitation measures; eliminating most structured overflow outfalls; and rehabilitating pumping stations. The 2002 consent decree required all work to eliminate sewer overflows to be completed by January 2016, but it became clear to the parties that due to the flow restriction at the Back River plant and other factors, additional time and effort were necessary to bring the system into full compliance with Clean Water Act requirements.

Baltimore has paid about $1.8 million in stipulated penalties for overflows prior to 2016, as prescribed in the 2002 consent decree. The modified consent decree also includes stipulated penalties for sewage overflows, along with penalties for failing to provide appropriate public notification of overflows and for failing to meet key dates, including the January 2021 deadline to eliminate the flow restriction at the Back River facility and the two remaining structured overflows.

The modified consent decree is part of a broader effort, using regulation and innovation, to ensure the City makes real progress in cleaning and greening its urban watershed.The Department expects the City to reduce polluted stormwater runoff through a range of effective green infrastructure projects.

The proposed modification to the consent decree requires court approval because it changes the terms and schedule of the 2002 consent decree. It will be open for public comment for 60 days. All comments will be considered before the modification can be finalized by the court. .

Comments can be submitted by email to pubcomment-ees.enrd@usdoj.gov or by mail to:

 

Assistant Attorney General

U.S. DOJ-ENRD

P.O. Box 7611

Washington, DC 20044-7611

 

The Maryland Department of the Environment will hold a public informational session at 7 p.m. June 7 at the Department’s offices, 1800 Washington Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21230.

 

 

 

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