Modified Consent Decree Covers Backups Into Buildings

Press Release

Baltimore’s Board of Estimates today approved the City’s modified sanitary sewer system Consent Decree draft, which includes new provisions for sewer backups, water quality monitoring, and public participation.

The Board’s action now sends the Consent Decree back to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for signatures and entry with the U.S. District Court.

“Developing the modified Consent Decree for Baltimore’s sewer system has been a lengthy process, but we now have a document that will assure accountability and credibility for the City,” said Mayor Catherine Pugh. “I’m gratified that throughout the negotiations DPW has continued working toward the goals set out initially in 2002 and again in 2016. I am confident that we will meet the terms of this legal agreement.”

The new provisions arose following an extended 60-day public comment period when the document was first made public in June 2016. The City and the agencies that brought the action have spent the past year negotiating the document that finally went to the Board.

A 3-year pilot program for homeowner reimbursement for costs of cleaning and disinfecting property from backups caused by wet-weather sewer surcharges is among the new provisions. The Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) will review the reimbursement program with EPA and MDE after the 3-year period, but will continue the program for the remainder of the Consent Decree.

Reimbursement will be limited to $2,500 per dwelling, per event. Determinations of eligibility will be made by DPW within 60 days after DPW has received all necessary documentation regarding the application. This reimbursement program is separate from the General Liability Claims process that is administered by the City Law Department, but applicants may file simultaneous applications with both programs.

The reimbursement program will begin six months after the Consent Decree is approved by the court, and will be advertised online, in water bill inserts, and when crews respond to sewage backups. DPW will include updates on the program in Consent Decree quarterly reports.

Other portions of the sewer backups provision include:

  • A 5-year study to compare rainfall data and building backups, and identify measures that address causes of wet-weather backups
  • Development of a strategy to prioritize action for sewer lateral lines that experience recurring backups
  • Incorporating into DPW’s emergency response plan standard operating procedures, additional training and analysis, and improved public education and outreach.

Under other new provisions of the Consent Decree, DPW must also post stream impact sampling and ammonia screening results online. DPW has been implementing these long-standing programs and posting the results online as a matter of best practice under the City’s stormwater discharge permit, but now agrees to continue doing so even if the stormwater permit requirements are cancelled or curtailed.

Finally, transparency and public participation will be expanded. DPW will post major deliverables associated with the Consent Decree (e.g. Phase II Plan, Emergency Response Plan, annual revisions) for a 30-day public comment period prior to submitting the documents to EPA and MDE. DPW will also notify interested citizens who sign up to receive alerts when important documents are available; public comments will be forwarded to EPA and MDE.

In addition, quarterly and annual reports will continue to be posted online, including construction progress reports, capital costs, and sewer backup information. DPW will hold annual public information sessions, advertised 30 days in advance, and post summaries as well as public feedback online.

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