Water Blog - Blue Water Baltimore Seeks Citizen Intervention to Address Sewage Pollution

News, notes and thoughts from Blue Water Baltimore.



Blue Water Baltimore Seeks Citizen Intervention to Address Sewage Pollution

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Today Blue Water Baltimore is taking a critical step forward to address the millions of gallons of untreated sewage that flow into Baltimore’s waterways annually by asking the Federal District Court in Baltimore to allow us to intervene in a lawsuit against the City of Baltimore. This lawsuit was settled by a consent decree in 2002.

The City is now seeking to renegotiate the terms of that consent decree with the parties who filed the lawsuit– the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE)—and we would like a seat at the table in that process.

Sewage is one of the main pollution sources in Baltimore’s waterways and is a huge concern for local water quality, public health, and the economy.

Baltimore’s sewage infrastructure is over 100 years old in some locations and is failing throughout the City in many places. Raw sewage continues to discharge directly from these failing and undersized sewage pipes but also from the sewage pipes into the stormwater pipes into our streams, rivers and Harbor.

The lawsuit that EPA and MDE brought against the City resulting in the 2002 consent decree was due to this illegal sewage pollution. The consent decree dictates a schedule by which the City has to fix and upgrade the largest aging sewage pipes and to stop all of the sewage spills into our waterways and currently has a final deadline of 2016.

Recently the City reported that they were in negotiations with EPA to extend the deadlines under the consent decree to 2019 and beyond.  EPA and the City will need to go back to the original court that issued the consent decree for approval to make such revisions.

Blue Water Baltimore feels that reopening this eleven year old agreement should be considered by the Court only with a full understanding of how things have been going thus far and what steps are needed to protect the health of Baltimore’s citizens and waterways going forward.

The terms of the consent decree are critical because they provide a sustainable means of ensuring that appropriate measures are taken for the long haul—regardless of staff and administration turnovers at our government agencies and any associated changes in political will to take action.

Although the City has made progress in addressing this critical issue, there is a long way to go before raw sewage stops discharging into our local waterways.  We believe that in the meantime, among other things, the City needs to ensure that the public is well-informed about the ongoing sewage spills so that they can avoid contact with the polluted waterways and the wastewater debris that ends up on the streets and stream-banks near the sewage overflows (i.e. toilet paper, sewage sediment, clumps of solidified grease or “greaseballs” from the sewage pipes, and other really gross things that you can imagine people might flush down their toilets).

Blue Water Baltimore has extensive on-the-ground experience responding to reports from citizens of sewage discharging onto their streets and into their local waterways—the same waterways in which they let their kids swim and their dogs play.

Greaseball and tampon
Wastewater debris (grease ball and tampon) on the shoreline of the Inner Harbor near Downtown Sailing Center in June 2012.

Blue Water Baltimore also has technical expertise from sampling for the sewage pollution entering our streams from the sewage pipes and through the stormwater pipes.

We are firmly convinced that our presence in the consent decree revision process will provide a much-needed citizen voice and ensure that what is happening on paper actually reflects what is happening on the ground and in the water.

We hope the judge will grant our request and we’ll keep you updated!

Click here to read our press release [PDF].

For more information about  sewage pollution in Baltimore City and about the consent decree, click here to read our fact sheet [PDF].