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The future of Baltimore's aging sewage and water system

Right now, beneath your feet, a century-old system of pipes and drains making up Baltimore City’s water and sewage utilities help deliver water to nearly 2 million people across the region.

The system serves the city, Baltimore County, and parts of Anne Arundel, Carroll, Howard and Harford counties, too. It is among Baltimore city’s largest and most valuable assets, worth billions of dollars.

Later in the show, we discuss how aging sewage infrastructure is impacting Baltimore city residents.

But first, a new regional task force created by the Maryland General Assembly is considering changes to the system that could have repercussions for the many people who use its water. The task force has a deadline in January to present its recommendations to the General Assembly.

Our guests are Bill Henry, Baltimore City’ Comptroller and chair of that Task Force, and Lauren Buckler, Deputy Director for Baltimore County Department of Public Works and Transportation. She was named to the task force by County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

Later in the show, we talk about the consequences of aging sewage infrastructure for Baltimore city residents. The Baltimore City Department of Public Works reported in 2021 there had been more than 8500 sewage backups in the city in the previous three years.

Some of those backups are caused by storms or flooding, when a sudden influx of water triggers the sewage system to spill. Sometimes into streams and sometimes into people’s homes.

In 2021, the city expanded its help for residents with sewage backups by paying clean-up crews dispatched to the scene. But this past May, the federal EPA said the city must expand its assistance to include residents who experience sewage backups from causes beyond storms and flooding.

Our guest Jennifer Kunze, program coordinator with the grassroots advocacy group Clean Water Action, joins us to talk about the latest.

We asked the city’s Department of Public Works about the practice of limited support for clean-ups to backups caused by wet conditions;

If City of Baltimore residents encounter capacity-related sewage backups, the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) offers its Sewage Onsite Support (SOS) Cleanup Program, a direct assistance program, which provides cleaning and disinfection services at no cost to residential customers, who reside in Baltimore City, and are impacted by sewage damage caused by a capacity-related wet-weather event resulting from heavy or sustained rain.

A capacity-related wet weather event occurs when at least ¼ inch of precipitation is recorded within a 24-hour period that causes the sewer lines to surcharge or overflow. A City resident who incurs costs as a result of a non-capacity and/or dry weather building backup has the option to pursue a general liability claim with the Baltimore City Law Department.
Baltimore City Department of Public Works

More information about the city's Sewage Onsight Support Cleanup Program can be found on the Department of Public Works website.

Sheilah Kast is the host of On The Record, Monday-Friday, 9:30-10:00 am.
Sam Bermas-Dawes is a producer for Midday.