The city of Baltimore has plans to make improvements to its sewer system. The 13-year plan may raise residents’ utility bills.
On Wednesday, August 9, Baltimore’s Board of Estimates, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency together approved a new consent decree to help the city reduce the amount of waste and sediment in Baltimore’s sewer system, while also repairing pipes to keep waste from flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. The approved $1.6 billion plan has given activists hope that pollution will be reduced, but residents are concerned their monthly water bills will increase.
The agreement’s approval means that residents will be the ones paying for the work however some residents may also be entitled to financial assistance if sewage backups occur in their homes. Along with the 13-year plan, a new program provides $2 million per year to cover the cost of cleanups. The terms of the plan require the city to provide both businesses and residents with financial assistance whenever the sewage backups occur. Eligibility will be determined by the Department of Public Works, and the $2 million reimbursement program will begin six months after a court has legally approved the decree. On average, a dozen or more leaks occur every day
in the homes within Baltimore’s water and sewage system.
The 13-year project
will be completed in two phases. The first will focus on repairing and upgrading the Back-River Waste Water Treatment Plant near Essex; it will be completed by 2021. And the second phase -- which won't be completed until 2030 -- will focus on upgrading the hydraulic systems of the sewers, allowing for fewer leaks and overflows.
Regularly occurring leaks not only affect homes, the leaks also send enormous amounts of wastewater into the Chesapeake Bay. In February of 2016, local advocacy group Blue Water Baltimore estimated that one weather storm alone caused the discharge of 12 million gallons of sewage
into Jones Falls and the Inner Harbor. Even with the improvements, the chance of bacteria seeping into the waters is still possible.
The agreement requires city leaders and officials to outline how sewer lines will be inspected, replaced and operated, and will make sure that sewage leaks not caused by weather and storms are investigated. While the city has reached an understanding with the EPA, the agency does have the authority to enforce the terms of the agreement by issuing financial penalties should any deadlines be missed. In a previous consent decree with the EPA in 2002, the city was charged $600,000 for violations.
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