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Advocates seek to intervene in city sewer system fixes

Blue Water Baltimore

Baltimore City asked the U.S. District Court last month to extend its deadline for making critical improvements to the city sewer system by 17 years, from January 2016 to the year 2033.

The deadline stems from a 2002 lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice filed against the city for allowing raw sewage to leak into public waterways, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

This week, the advocacy organization Blue Water Baltimore asked to intervene in the case so that it can represent citizens’ perspectives in the process. The group wants to make sure the agreement actually leads to improvements, according Executive Director Halle Van Der Gaag.

“What [the agreement] says is that you need to fix these pipes and you need to do these projects by these dates, and that's great,” Van Der Gaag said. “What it doesn't say is you have to actually prove that water quality is enhanced and improved as a result of those projects."

Baltimore Department of Public Works spokesman Jeffery Raymond said the extra 17 years gives the city time to address needs it didn’t know existed back in 2002.

“We’ve learned about the system and the challenges we face, including the fact that we have a huge sewer pipe that does not fit properly at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant,” he said.

He said that particular issue will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fix.