Federal and State Agencies Order Baltimore City to Expand Sewage Backup Program
By: Angela Haren
It’s no secret that sewage is a big problem in Baltimore City. Outdated, crumbling infrastructure and lack of maintenance for decades have caused hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage to run into local rivers and streets. Not as many people are aware that this crumbling infrastructure coupled with heavy rainfall throughout the City causes sewage to back up into residents’ homes thousands of times every year. These backups threaten the health and financial security of many who cannot afford to pay for clean-up costs.
In 2002, Baltimore entered a federal consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) for violations of the Clean Water Act and set a schedule to address all sewage overflows by 2016. Unfortunately, that deadline was missed and the parties sought to extend the deadline through a modified sewage consent decree.
At that time, Chesapeake Legal Alliance provided pro bono network attorneys to local nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore and successfully intervened in the modification of the sewage consent decree. As a Plaintiff-Intervenor, Blue Water Baltimore through its CLA network attorneys fought to ensure that concerns of the local community were addressed. Blue Water Baltimore advocated for transparency, accountability, and tangible programs to benefit those most impacted by sewage overflows. While the agencies were narrowly focused on violations of the Clean Water Act – which prohibits the discharge of pollutants into waters of the U.S. – Blue Water Baltimore and CLA’s network attorneys insisted on the inclusion of solutions to address the sewage into homes.
One of the most significant victories of the lawsuit was the inclusion of a sewage backup pilot program into the modified sewage consent decree.
However, that pilot program was just the beginning. Originally $2 million was set aside annually to reimburse residents for sewage backup costs; but after the initial period, only $15,000 was paid out. Program restrictions and red tape disqualified thousands of people who would have benefited. Blue Water Baltimore, along with partners at Clean Water Action and Environmental Integrity Project continued to educate decision-makers on the serious public health and environmental justice issues plaguing the City through sewage back-ups.
Recently, EPA and MDE have ordered Baltimore City to expand the basement backup program beyond just reimbursement. Under the new guidance, the City will be required to provide direct assistance including sending a qualified professional directly to a home to clean up the sewage backups caused in both dry and wet weather.
This is a hard-fought victory and one that will directly and tangibly improve the lives of thousands of families living in Baltimore. Read more from our partners.
CLA is proud to continue to represent Blue Water Baltimore on the ongoing legal challenges around sewage infrastructure in Baltimore.