Sewage Overflows in Baltimore City


In April of 2002, the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Maryland announced a joint settlement with the City of Baltimore to address discharges of raw sewage from Baltimore’s sewage system into area waterways. Under this consent decree, Baltimore City agreed to complete a comprehensive, system-wide program in an effort to bring the city into compliance with the Clean Water Act. The agreement set in place an infrastructure expansion of Baltimore City’s sewage collection system by June 2007 and a complete sewer upgrade by 2016.

2016 Update

On January 1, 2016 the original decree, enacted to correct these unlawful discharges, expired with work yet to be completed. On June 1, 2016, six months past the deadline, the Baltimore City Department of Public Works filed a modified consent decree. A statement released by the DPW, further details each phase and the associated deadlines and costs. The modified consent decree was open to a 60-day public comment period and an informational session was held on June 7, 2016 at MDE Headquarters. The modified decree set forth a plan for work to be completed by 2030 in two phases:

Phase I — Completed January 1, 2021

  • 34 projects to complete the fixing and cleaning of Baltimore City’s sewer mains
  • The Back River Headworks project, a 10-mile sewage backup created by displacement of  sewer main leading to the Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant

Phase II — Completed by 2030

  • Increased capacity of system based on recommendations associated with the best possible engineering, technology, and modeling for the next 20 years of rainfall. This plan must be approved by the MDE and EPA

Our Role

Blue Water Baltimore joined with partners at the Environmental Integrity Project in June and July of 2016 to collect and submit extensive public comments that raised concerns about public health, progress and transparency, and frequent backups of sewage into homes of city residents. Approximately 1,250 individuals, including 784 Baltimore City residents and 35 community, environmental and health organizations signed in support of a formal set of comments authored by Blue Water Baltimore and the Environmental Integrity Project.

On July 27th, 2016 in U.S. District Court, we filed a motion that if granted, would allow Blue Water Baltimore to become a legal party to the proposed modified consent decree. Recognizing our decade-long role in monitoring water quality, Blue Water Baltimore wanted to ensure that the citizen voice was represented in the decision-making process in a robust and long-term manner.

Thursday, September 8, 2016, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland issued a ruling to grant Blue Water Baltimore’s motion to intervene in the federal lawsuit intended to fix the City of Baltimore’s failing sewer system. As a formal legal party to this case, we hope to see and report to the public on measurable progress to improve water quality in Baltimore’s neighborhood streams, rivers, and Harbor.

Blue Water Baltimore looks forward to continuing to work with city, state and federal agencies to eliminate sewage overflows, protect the public from sewage pollution, and achieve compliance with the Clean Water Act. Updates on the progress of the proposed modifications of the consent decree can be found on our Blog or via updates on our Facebook page.

Legal Filings by Department of Justice