Revised consent decree requires Baltimore to address SSOs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment announced that a revised amended consent decree to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) in the City of Baltimore was filed in federal court in Baltimore.

“This modification presents the best path forward to eliminating sanitary sewer overflows in the City of Baltimore,” said EPA acting Regional Administrator Cecil Rodrigues. “In response to public comments, the proposed modification establishes additional control measures, provides greater public transparency, and addresses basement backups.”

While the modified consent decree extends the timeline for compliance, the work currently being performed under the initial phase will reduce the volume of Baltimore’s current wet weather SSOs by 83 percent by January 2021.

“This is a better contract for clean water and environmental justice,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “The state will ensure the city keeps its promise, providing tough oversight and real money to support continued progress for all citizens of the Chesapeake Bay region.”

The original consent decree required all work to be completed by January 2016, but it became clear that due to a significant hydraulic restriction that impacts the flow of wastewater into the Back River wastewater treatment plant and other factors, additional time and effort were necessary to bring the system into full compliance with Clean Water Act requirements.

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Baltimore has already completed several actions mandated by the original consent decree including eliminating combined sewers, sewershed evaluations, eliminating most SSO structures, and rehabilitating pumping stations. Baltimore has also been assessed more than $2 million in stipulated penalties for SSOs that occurred prior to 2016.

The proposed modification, which requires court approval, provides that implementation of the rehabilitation projects will be in two phases: Phase I to be completed by January 2021 and Phase II to be completed by December 2030. Phase I implementation is currently ongoing and requires Baltimore to address the hydraulic restriction at the Back River wastewater treatment plant, structural improvements, and a series of sewer upgrades. Phase I is expected to address about 83 percent of the wet weather overflow volume.

After the completion of Phase I, Baltimore will monitor rainfall and flow in its collection system to inform the development of a Phase II plan, which is due in December 2022. Following the completion of Phase II, Baltimore will again monitor its collection system for two more years, with a final report due on July 31, 2033.

The modified consent decree also requires Baltimore to: identify areas prone to suffer basement backups during wet weather; develop a program to prioritize repairs to the collection system laterals that contribute to recurring backups; and, develop standard operating procedures for responding to and determining the cause of backups.

In addition, the modified consent decree includes a new section on the reporting, investigation and elimination of sanitary discharges of unknown origin (SDUOs). SDUOs refer to discharges of sewage via the separate storm sewer system. The consent decree requires Baltimore to draft a plan to investigate the sources of SDUOs, and correct any deficiencies in the sewage collection system that are resulting in SDUOs.

Furthermore, the modified consent decree includes a number of new requirements relating to the Emergency Response Plan including: a plan to notify the public of SDUOs and to post signs in areas of chronic overflows and SDUOs; a plan on how they city will respond to basement backups; a plan on public education regarding basement backups; and, implementing a pilot program to provide expedited reimbursement of cleanup costs arising from capacity related backups.

To increase public awareness and transparency of the problems being addressed by the consent decree, the modification includes new requirements for Baltimore to hold an annual public forum on work being completed under the consent decree, and to post in the city’s website the quarterly reports submitted pursuant to the consent decree. In response to public comment, the modified consent decree requires Baltimore to provide an opportunity for public comments on the Phase II plan and other deliverables, and that these documents be posted online.

To address dry weather overflows, the modified consent decree requires Baltimore to review and revise its operations and maintenance plan. Baltimore must implement a system-wide sewer line cleaning and inspection program. The program must include a schedule to clean all pipes greater than eight inches at least every seven years. In addition, there will be targeted cleaning in areas of reoccurring blockages.

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