Blue Water Baltimore, an environmental advocacy group, wants to play a role in controlling pollution in the city’s waterways which, despite $340 million spent on sewage treatment since 2002, are still contaminated with raw sewage and untreated stormwater in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
In a motion filed in federal court in Baltimore July 31, the group seeks to intervene in a 2002 consent decree between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the city of Baltimore on how the city will fix violations caused by its outdated sewage and storm water systems.
Under the consent decree, the Baltimore Department of Public Works has until 2016 to fix violations to its failing sewage and storm water systems, the source of sewage discharges and stormwater runoff that often exposes city residents to unhealthful, and unlawful, levels of water pollution.
Blue Water Baltimore’s request for intervention comes as Baltimore’s Department of Public Works has indicated it is planning to seek an extension of the 2016 deadline of a pact entered into with the EPA in 2002 under the threat of heavy fines for failing to meet federal Clean Water Act requirements.
The city, EPA and MDE are to respond to the motion by Aug. 19.
“We just want a seat at the table,” said Tina Meyers, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper for Blue Water Baltimore. “Our goal is to make sure citizen’s voices are heard in the process.”
Meyers said Blue Water Baltimore receives more than 50 calls per year from residents who complain of finding untreated sewage, ranging from untreated human waste to sanitary napkins and other solids, in local streams.
“Kids in underserved areas swim in the streams during the summer,” said Meyers. “Some people fish and crab in Middle Branch in the Harbor, not for recreation, but for their livelihoods.”
Blue Water Baltimore is pushing a six-point agenda that Meyers said will increase residential engagement in the renovation plan. Meyers said too many people are making contact with polluted water in area streams such as Gwynn Park Run, Carol Park and Middle Branch.
Asked about Blue Water’s request for intervention, Jeffery Raymond, spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, sent a statement calling the request “premature.”
Raymond said the city has made several improvements to the existing storm water and sewage system. He added that the department has spent at least $340 million on 39 construction projects.
Raymond said the DPW upgraded the Jones Falls Pumping Station from a 35-million to a 55-million gallon a capacity, rehabilitated more than 29 miles of the city’s sewer collection system and corrected illegal connections.
“The Baltimore City Department of Public Works is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the 2002 Consent Decree,” said Raymond in the statement. “A decision of the consent decree is not yet before the court, and we consider the intervention referenced today to be premature.”
In the statement, Raymond said the Department of Public Works has met every requirement and deadline under the process laid out in the consent decree.
Bonnie Smith, an EPA spokesperson, confirmed the city of Baltimore’s Public Works Department filed a request for an initial extension to the 2016 deadline on May 2010 stating it will be unable to meet all of the requirements by the deadline date.
According to the request the city wants the deadline delayed three years and six months to July 2019. In the request, the Department of Public Works said the timeline in upgrades for connecting Baltimore County sewage and storm water infrastructure will interfere with the previously agreed upon timeline for the city to make upgrades.
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