The Headworks Project

What is Headworks?

  • A long-awaited project that will eliminate more than 80 percent of the volume of sewage overflowing the City’s aged sanitary sewer system, and keep the streams, harbor, and Chesapeake Bay cleaner.
  • Keys to the project are a well that the incoming sewage will drain into, and a series of very powerful pumps that will improve sewage flow. Essentially, it will act as a giant sump pump.
  • The Headworks Project helps fulfill Baltimore City’s Consent Decree requirements to address sewage overflows.
  • The Headworks Project at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant will cost about $430 million and go into operation by the end of 2020. Construction will continue into 2021.

Headworks Chart


Why are these changes needed?

  • Currently a backup of waste in the 12’x12’ pipe leading into the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant restricts how quickly water and waste can flow into the plant.
  • When a large storm occurs and water infiltrates the sewer pipes, there is a miles-long sewage backup. In the worst case scenario, the sewer interceptor flowing to Back River can back up (sometimes up to 10 miles) and sewage will then overflow into the Jones Falls, which enters the Harbor.
  • To partially solve both the backups and the overflows: the Headworks Project will implement the use of eight big pumps, each over one 1,000 horsepower. Four of these pumps will work all the time to keep moving the tremendous volume of waste coming into the plant; four other larger pumps will be activated during critical times.
  • In addition, new screening and grit removal facilities will help speed the treatment process and reduce odors at the plant.

Large pipe


Back River Plant History

  • The Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, originally constructed in 1907, is owned and operated by the City of Baltimore.
  • The plant operates 24-hours a day, year-around, and is currently designed to treat 180 million gallons per day (MGD) of wastewater from Baltimore City and Baltimore County, utilizing fine bubble, air distributed, activated sludge.
  • The plant occupies a 466-acre site and has a 35-foot elevation difference from influent to outfall, allowing wastewater to flow through the plant entirely by gravity. 
  • An estimated 1.3 million residents in a 140 square mile area of Baltimore City and County are served by this plant. 
  • The treatment plant employs nearly 300 people, including supervisory, operations, maintenance, and laboratory personnel. 

Back River