Federal court begins review of Baltimore's $1.6B plan to stop sewage leaks

A $1.6 billion plan Baltimore officials recently approved to stop sewage from leaking into waterways has been filed in federal court, taking it one step closer to being enforced under the Clean Water Act.

The document lays out 13 years’ worth of work needed to prevent millions of gallons of sewage from washing into the Patapsco and Back rivers every time it rains. It replaces a 2002 consent agreement whose deadline passed in 2015 with significant work left to be done on the century-old sewer system.

The court must now sign off on the plan for it to be formally adopted. The EPA and the Maryland Department of the Environment jointly filed the document Wednesday in Baltimore federal court.

The plan includes new requirements that the city do more to address sewage backups into homes, a response to concerns from the public, said Cecil Rodrigues, acting administrator of the EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional office.

The Baltimore Sun has reported that backups occur more than a dozen times a day, on average, costing residents thousands of dollars. The problem is tied to the city’s work to close relief valves that for decades released sewage directly into waterways, violating the federal clean water law.

Under the new plan, major projects to stop the leaks would have to be completed by January 2021, with other work continuing until December 2030.

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