Blue Water Baltimore supports calls for specific actions to tackle Baltimore's serious — and long-standing — sewage problem ("No public accounting for Baltimore's sewage problem," March 29).

In 2008, spurred on by government inaction and a lack of information, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper began a first-of-its-kind, volunteer monitoring program to find out just how dirty Baltimore's water really was.


Then, as Blue Water Baltimore, we found that millions of gallons of untreated sewage was overflowing into our neighborhood streams and the Inner Harbor, carrying pathogens, toxic chemicals and everything else that people flush down their toilets or sinks.

We continue to find such contamination on city streets, recreational trails and — perhaps most horrifically — in people's basements, bathtubs and sinks after major storms.

The Jones Falls should not be an intentional relief valve for a nasty soup of polluted stormwater and raw sewage every time it rains. But unfortunately, that's the "temporary" system the city created by engineering overflow pipes in the sewer system.

The regulators who are supposed to oversee progress have been overly lenient and absent. These "temporary" pipes were supposed to be eliminated in 2009 — seven years ago. And now we are three months past a critically important deadline once again.

Blue Water Baltimore has been reporting our water monitoring findings to the city, the state and the federal government for years, and we are working to find solutions. But regulators have been either unwilling or unable to ensure work was actually getting done.

It has been only in the last month that the city finally accurately reported sewage overflows from the Jones Falls — via press releases, not actual signage to warn those who may come in contact with the water downstream or fish for dinner.

Sadly, recent events in Flint, Mich., Charleston, W. Va. and other communities across the nation prove that we must be vigilant in making sure our government is protecting public health and managing public resources transparently. In Baltimore and across the United States, citizens need to have faith in their government to take care of vitally important infrastructure.

Residents will continue to see Blue Water Baltimore staff out patrolling in our boat, monitoring local streams and responding to citizen pollution reports every day.

Without local watchdogs, Baltimore residents would still be in the dark about our sewer infrastructure crisis and the failures of those tasked with implementation, oversight and compliance.

The problem of sewage infrastructure can be fixed — it's being done in Washington, D.C., Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and other cities across the country. Now it's Baltimore's turn. Let's hope that a new, revised consent decree delivers on that promise.

Halle Van der Gaag, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of Blue Water Baltimore.