Baltimore agrees to big ticket fine, sewer upgrades
Baltimore has reached a settlement with the Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Maryland to upgrade its wastewater collection system. Under the terms of the settlement, the city will pay a $600,000 fine and will make $940 million in repairs over the next 14 years to stop chronic discharges of raw sewage into city streets and local waterways.
Baltimore follows other cities such as Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Boston, New Orleans and San Diego that have settled cases with the Justice Department and the EPA regarding violations of the Clean Water Act. “We’re not the first city that’s been whacked by the federal government on this,” Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley told the Baltimore Sun. “We won’t be the last, and increasingly, members of Congress are understanding that this is a huge issue. One would like to think that the federal government could help us with half of this [bill].”
To fund the repairs, the city will have to raise rates for the 1.6 million users of the sewer system. However, according to the Baltimore Sun, a Justice Department analysis found that the city’s current rates are low compared to those for other American cities, and they still will be low after the repairs are made.
Most of Baltimore’s wastewater is transported in nearly century-old sanitary sewer systems, and the city experiences frequent sanitary system overflows caused by excessive use, limited sewer capacity and infiltration of water into the system. Since 1996, the sewage collection system has had at least 900 overflows totaling an estimated 190 million gallons, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Heavy rainfall or snowmelts often overwhelm the capacity of the city’s system, resulting in combined sewer overflows that discharge contaminated stormwater and untreated human and industrial waste to local waterways. Many of the waterbodies affected by the overflows fail to meet the Maryland water quality standards for fecal coliform, which is one measure of disease-carrying pathogens in waterbodies.
Under the settlement, Baltimore has agreed to complete construction work associated with increasing the capacity of its collection system and eliminating physical overflow structures by June 2007. The city estimates the immediate repairs will cost $250 million. The agreement also requires the city to eliminate illegal sewer connections, separate the combined portion of the system, improve its operation and maintenance program, and implement an emergency response plan.