Re­vised con­sent de­cree ad­dresses sewer over­flows

The Dundalk Eagle - - FRONT PAGE - By NI­COLE RODMAN nrod­man@ches­

The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) and Mary­land Depart­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment (MDE) have an­nounced a mod­i­fied le­gal agree­ment with Bal­ti­more City de­signed to al­le­vi­ate chronic sewer sys­tem over­flows.

The city first en­tered into

an agree­ment, known as a con­sent de­cree, with EPA and MDE in 2002 as a re­sponse to con­tin­ued over­flows of the city’s sewer sys­tem, man­aged partly by the Back River Wastew­a­ter Treat­ment Plant on East­ern Av­enue.

The de­cree came about in re­sponse to EPA/MDE ac­cu­sa­tions that the city, which man­ages the water sys­tem used by 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple in both the city and Bal­ti­more County, was al­low­ing over­flow sewage to spill into wa­ter­ways dur­ing wet weather.

Sewage over­flow, the re­sult of an ag­ing and over­taxed sewer sys­tem, not only pol­lutes lo­cal water- ways but is a health hazard as well. Sewage can con­tain in­dus­trial waste, pathogens and can ad­versely af­fect peo­ple and an­i­mals.

The con­sent de­cree orig­i­nally stip­u­lated a Jan­uary 2016 dead­line. That date proved un­re­al­is­tic after the dis­cov­ery of a mis­placed pipe caus­ing a 10-mile sewage backup lead­ing into the Back River plant.

A pro­posed mod­i­fied con­sent de­cree ad­dressed this con­cern with the ad­di­tion of the Back River Head­works project, a $430 mil­lion un­der­tak­ing ex­pected to elim­i­nate more than 80 per­cent of sewage over­flows in the area. The project, which broke ground to much fan­fare last month, is slated to be com­pleted by 2021.

The con­sent de­cree lays out a series of sewer sys­tem re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion projects to be com­pleted in two phases.

Phase I, with a dead­line of Jan­uary 2021, in­cludes the Head­works Project and other struc­tural im­prove­ments and up­grades. Sev­eral projects have al­ready been com­pleted as part of phase I, in­clud­ing elim­i­nat­ing com­bined sew­ers, re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing pump­ing sta­tions and eval­u­at­ing sew­er­sheds.

Phase I im­prove­ments are ex­pected to solve ap­prox­i­mately 83 per­cent of the sewage over­flow is­sues.

Once phase I is com­pleted, the city is tasked with keep­ing tabs on sewage flow and for­mu­lat­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate phase II plan, due in De­cem­ber 2022. Phase II is slated to be com­pleted by De­cem­ber 2030, with a fi­nal re­port from the city due on July 31, 2033.

Ad­di­tional el­e­ments of the mod­i­fied con­sent de­cree en­deavor, ac­cord­ing to an EPA press re­lease, to add ad­di­tional ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency to the process.

The city is tasked with in­ves­ti­gat­ing “san­i­tary dis­charges of un­known ori­gin” (SDUOs), re­fer­ring to dis­charges via the storm sewer sys­tem, and ed­u­cat­ing and no­ti­fy­ing the pub­lic about SDUOs. The city is also re­quired to hold an­nual pub­lic meet­ings on im­prove­ment projects and post quar­terly re­ports on the is­sue.

Other changes laid out in the re­vised de­cree in­clude stream qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing and sub lists of projects to be com­pleted by Jan­uary 2012 (in­clud­ing the Head­works project at Back River).

With a re­vised con­sent de­cree ham­mered out, it is up to courts to ap­prove the fi­nal agree­ment. MDE and EPA filed the de­cree in fed­eral on Sept. 6.

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

“Our ad­min­is­tra­tion was proud to work with our fed­eral part­ners, Bal­ti­more City and the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mu­nity to come to­gether on this crit­i­cal water qual­ity and pub­lic health pri­or­ity,” said Gov. Larry Ho­gan. “This agree­ment will pro­tect lo­cal wa­ters and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, and sup­port criti- cal water in­fra­struc­ture, in a way that pro­vides a real, sus­tain­able re­turn on tax­payer in­vest­ment.”

MDE Sec­re­tary Ben Grum­bles also touted the de­cree, not­ing, “This is a bet­ter con­tract for clean water and en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice.”

He con­cluded, “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 city has paid $600,000 in fines for the al­leged vi­o­la­tions that led to the 2002 orig­i­nal con­sent de­cree, as well as $1.8 mil­lion in penal­ties for over­flows, re­ported lack of pub­lic no­ti­fi­ca­tions and fail­ure to meet dead­lines.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan ad­dressed the au­di­ence dur­ing last month’s ground­break­ing of the Back River Wastew­a­ter Treat­ment Plant Head­works Project.

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