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Baltimore Negotiating New Water Quality Improvement Plan After Missing Deadline and Continued Problems

Less than one month ago, a rainstorm overwhelmed Baltimore’s sewers, causing a manhole to overflow and spill more than 16,000 gallons of sewage and water. Despite having spent $700 million over the past 13 years to stop sewage leaks, the city remains well behind its efforts to satisfy a 2002 agreement that laid out a plan to fix the issue. The incident in December again highlighted Baltimore’s need to fix its leaky sewer systems, which had lifespans of about 40 years.

However, the city missed the court-imposed deadline at the end of 2015, causing environmental groups to press for more explicit water quality improvement goals and aggressive policing of sewage spills. Now, Baltimore officials are negotiating with both state and federal environmental agencies on a revised plan designed to keep dangerous levels of fecal bacteria out of waterways.

Water quality advocates are hopeful that this new agreement will require the city to do even more, but also left room for possible legal action, which they will take if they think the plan is still too weak or if the deadline is extended too far into the future.

“I’m optimistic many of our concerns will be addressed,” Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper David Flores, who works for the Blue Water Baltimore watchdog group, told the Baltimore Sun. “Whether or not they’ll be addressed sufficiently to our concerns, I can’t say yet.”

Environmental groups hope to see a more stringent court order within weeks, but agencies involved in the agreement — the Baltimore Department of Public Works, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland Department of the Environment — wouldn’t say when they anticipate filing a new plan in federal court or what measures it might include.

“Everyone knows this can be a challenging and expensive problem to solve,” MDE spokesman Jay Apperson told the Baltimore Sun. “We’re working on an amended consent decree that takes into account the logistical challenges while insisting on continued environmental progress.”

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