Local Wastewater Infrastructure Challenges Draw Continued Focus

A July 14 ABC WMAR Channel 2 report examined the challenges faced by local governments as they try to upgrade stressed and aging wastewater treatment systems.  The article discussed recent severe weather events leading to sewage spills, upgrade challenges faced by local governments, and the legal ramifications faced by local governments for not upgrading.

“[Sewage spills are] a significant issue if you think about it from a public health standpoint, because of the number of pathogens in the wastewater,” said Alison Prost, Maryland’s director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “It is definitely a source of nitrogen and phosphorous as well.”

Five years ago, the Maryland Department of the Environment began fining municipalities of sewage systems, unless the system owner can demonstrate the overflow was beyond their control and in spite of taking all reasonable steps to maintain and improve the infrastructure.  …

Baltimore City, as well as Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties, entered into consent decrees with MDE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice to upgrade their wastewater systems

However, the article noted that it is not easy or cheap to upgrade wastewater systems:

But undertaking a major sewer project is hard to sell to the public, [Baltimore City Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher] said. It’s expensive, and it’s not visually appealing.  …

Ed Adams, director of Baltimore County’s Department of Public Works, said the county is nine years into its 15-year decree, which requires a $900 million investment in the sewer systems. So far, the county has spent $600 million on upgrades, paid through mainly with rate increases and a few grants.

The county is also spending millions more on new pipes.

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