An underground network of sewer pipes runs alongside our local streams and carries raw sewage from our homes and businesses to wastewater treatment plants situated on the Patapsco and Back Rivers. In a perfect system, the sewage would go from point A to point B without ever seeing the light of day. But in many places, including the Jones Falls watershed, the pipes are cracked, leaky, and under-sized. Rain and groundwater intrusion can quickly exceed the pipes’ capacity, causing raw sewage to overflow from the system directly into our streams, lakes, and rivers, especially during heavy rainstorms. If the excessive sewage/rainwater slurry backs up in the pipes, it can also cause dangerous and costly sewage backups into peoples’ homes.
Baltimore City and Baltimore County share this network of pipes, and both jurisdictions are under Consent Decrees to fix the causes of these sewer overflows. Baltimore County has contracted multiple engineering studies that show a dangerous lack of capacity in the pipes. These engineering reports include recommendations to fix the problem, but those corrections have not been made.
As the mid-Atlantic region is projected to get more frequent and more intense rainstorms, the “capacity problem” will persist as stormwater continues to overwhelm the sewer pipes during large rain events. What could make this problem even worse? Adding more toilets, sinks, and drains into the system without increasing pipe capacity!
The Baltimore County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) reviews proposals for new buildings and developments to ensure adequate sewer capacity, but the system is flawed because they do not consider the volume of sewage + stormwater intrusion during storms, even though this step is required by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
In Baltimore County, an Administrative Law Judge makes the final decision on approving new developments. In July 2023, a judge denied approval of a development for 61 new homes in the Jones Falls watershed because expert testimony proved that the underground pipes are inadequate to safely convey the sewage to a treatment plant. This is the second development that was approved by DPWT and subsequently denied by a judge for this reason, but DPWT refuses to acknowledge the error in its methods.
The people of Baltimore should not have to hire attorneys and expert witnesses to be protected from sewer overflows! Everyone should be equally protected by environmental laws.
Join us in calling for the Baltimore County Council to require an independent review of the way Baltimore County DPWT approves new development and a moratorium on approvals until new methods are implemented.