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Proposal Would Give Baltimore Several More Years To Repair Sewer System

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- A revision to a federal consent decree that would grant Baltimore a 14-year extension for repairs and upgrades to its sewer system has been proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment.

WJZ's Alex DeMetrick reports it's a repair job that started in 2002, and will take more than another decade to complete.

Sometimes it's an old pipe that bursts, but mostly raw sewage spills in Baltimore come after heavy rains that overwhelm century old infrastructure, finding its way into not only city streams, but also homes.

"Over 5,000 basement back-ups is part of this aging infrastructure problem," says Halle van der Gaag, of Blue Water Baltimore.

Baltimore has spent more than a decade trying to repair or replace aging pipes at a cost of $867 million.

Now a new agreement with the feds and the state finds another $1.2 billion needs to be spent to complete key projects by 2021, and all remaining work by 2030.

"We're redesigning an old program for a new future," says Jeff Raymond, Department of Public Works spokesman.

A big part of that job is a massive underground sewer line leading into the Back River treatment plant.

That line is broken and sewage is back up for miles.

Add rain and sewage in other lines is forced out open release valves into the Jones Falls.

"Often waste water debris, toilet paper, all kinds of fun stuff," says van der Gaag.

Fix the line at Back River, and the open valves into the Jones Falls can be closed.

"Reduce by more than 80 percent the volume of our sewage backups into the city," according to Raymond.

Last year alone, there were 11 major sewage spills, each a million gallons or more.

"Very significant amount of sewage," according to van der Gaag. "And obviously that's reached into the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay where people are recreating and coming into contact with that. They are making strides toward closing the structured overflows, so we certainly think that's the good news."

As part of the new agreement, the city will be fined $15,000 every time one million gallons or more of sewage enters the Jones Falls.

The proposed modification will be open for public comment and requires court approval since it changes the terms and schedule of the original consent decree. The public will have a 60-day period to provide comments on the consent decree modification. All comments will be considered before the modification can be finalized by the court.

Comments can be submitted by email to or by mail to:
Assistant Attorney General
P.O. Box 7611
Washington, D.C. 20044-7611

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