Baltimore’s aging sanitary sewer system causes millions of gallons of raw sewage to enter our waterways each year.
Getting sewage pollution in our waterways under control is a complicated challenge. To address the issue we work with volunteers, legislators, enforcement agencies, and residents in seeking effective solutions.
We work to enforce water pollution laws, advocate for sound policy making, and ensure our local government is held accountable when sewer overflows happen. Our Waterkeeper team monitors and samples local waterways for several water quality parameters that help track down sewage overflows.
Baltimore City’s Building Backup Reimbursement Program
Sewage backups in homes and buildings are a big problem in Baltimore. Heavy rainfall coupled with the city’s crumbling infrastructure causes toxic sewage to back up into residents’ homes thousands of times a year. These backups put residents’ health, homes, and financial security at risk.
In April 2018, Baltimore City launched a pilot Expedited Reimbursement Program to help residents with the costs of cleaning up a basement backup. The pilot will help the city create a permanent program required by the Sanitary Sewer Consent Decree. After 18 months, has the project helped?
- More than 4,600 reports of building sewage backups were reported to 311 in the program’s first year, but only 74 households applied for reimbursement. Of those, Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) rejected all but 10.
- Of the $2 million set aside to reimburse residents, less than $15,000 (less than one percent) has been paid out.
- Eligible applications can receive up to $5,000. However, these funds can only be used for cleanup and disinfecting. In many cases, this is far from enough.
- Program restrictions and requirements disqualify thousands of people who would benefit most from this program.
Lifting restrictions, publicizing the program better, and increasing the dollar amount that can be reimbursed would all make things easier for residents who find sewage backed up into their basement.
What To Do If You Experience A Sewage Backup
1. Report it!
Baltimore City: Report the backup to the Department of Public Works as soon as possible by calling 311 or using the online portal.
Baltimore County: Report the backup to the Bureau of Utilities as soon as possible by calling 410-887-7415 or 410-887-5210 after-hours. Additional information is available online.
Anne Arundel County: Report the backup to the Emergency Services Unit as soon as possible by calling 410-222-8400.
2. Do not clean it up yourself! Raw sewage carries viruses and pathogens that pose significant health hazards. Please contact professionals to clean it for you. If handling items contaminated with sewage is unavoidable, always wear gloves, a mask, and protective clothing. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling items, and consult a health professional if you experience any signs of illness.
3. Baltimore City residents: Apply for the Expedited Reimbursement Program as soon as possible. Baltimore City may reimburse you up to $5,000 for cleaning costs resulting from a verified rain-related sewage backup. There are restrictions to the program and you must include all required documentation and receipts within 90 days of the backup. You can apply by email or mail:
Baltimore City Department of Public Works
Office of Legal and Regulatory Affairs
Abel Wolman Municipal Building
200 Holliday Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
410-396-7755 between 8:30am and 4:30pm
4. Baltimore City residents: Consider filing a General Liability Claim for additional cleanup costs and property damage.
Stand Up Against Sewage
In order to protect our waterways and public health, we need to stand up against sewage. Sewage doesn’t belong in our streets, or our homes!
- Visit our Baltimore Water Watch website to view local water quality conditions
- Report pollution through our website
- Be an advocate and speak out on clean water issues