Consent Decree Program

In September of 2002, the City of Baltimore entered into a court-approved agreement with federal and state regulators to Sanitary Sewer Consent Decree improve the City’s sanitary sewer system by reducing sanitary sewage overflows (SSOs). The Consent Decree (CD) agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to address the City's sanitary sewer system was one of the first of its kind in the country.

Accomplishments to Date:

  • Discovered a significant hydraulic restriction at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant and designed the Headworks project to relieve the restriction and store large flows during storms
  • Studied the entire sewer collection system, created a hydraulic model of the system to test designed improvements before building them, and drafted comprehensive sewershed plans to clean and repair the system
  • Closed 60 of 62 structured overflows where sewage was escaping during wet weather 
  • Completed 18 capital projects, have another 8 currently in construction and 12 in the design phase
  • Separated small stormwater and wastewater combined systems

Consent Decree ModificationsSanitary Sewer Consent Decree
On Aug. 9, 2017, Baltimore’s Board of Estimates (BOE) 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 EPA, MDE, and DOJ for signatures and approval by the U.S. District Court.

Many of the new provisions in the modified consent decree are a result of public comment 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.

Modified Consent Decree Draft
Aug. 9, 2017, Press Release on BOE Approval

Homeowner Reimbursement Policy 

Under the terms of the modified consent decree, there will be 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. 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.

Additional Consent Decree Modifications

The modified Consent Decree is structured into Phase I and Phase II improvements. Collectively, these improvements will eliminate an estimated 99.87% of the baseline sewer overflow volume. Longer timelines spread out costs to reduce the financial burden on ratepayers.

  • Phase I will be achieved by January 1, 2021, and includes:
    - Rehabilitating massive portions of the system in need of cleaning and repair
    - Removing the hydraulic restriction at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) and closing two (2) remaining structured SSOs
    - Achieving over 80% of environmental benefit and SSO volume reduction
  • Phase II will be accomplished by December 31, 2030, and includes:
    - Reducing infiltration and inflow of rainwater and groundwater into the sanitary sewer
    - Upgrading hydraulic capacity of the system to handle larger volumes of sewage
    - Providing a 5-year level of protection City-wide and 10-year level of protection against sewer overflows in sensitive areas (in the vicinity of schools, child-care centers, etc.)
  • Hydraulic restriction at Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP)
    - This restriction is causing a 10-mile sewage backup which contributes to SSOs. Once the project to correct this is completed (by the end of 2020), it will have the single biggest impact on SSO volume reduction, approximately 78%.