Consent Decree: Sewage Overflows in Baltimore City

A Revised Decree

Baltimore City is currently under a consent decree that requires it to upgrade its aging waste water infrastructure and eliminate sewage overflows into our rivers and streams by 2030. This is a legal agreement entered into by the City with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the State of Maryland, under the Federal the Clean Water Act.  

The original version of the consent decree dates from 2002, and required infrastructure improvements to eliminate all sewage overflows by 2016. This deadline was missed and Baltimore City requested an additional 14 years to complete the necessary work to end sewage overflows. At that time, Blue Water Baltimore  formally intervened in the consent decree modification process, becoming a party to the negotiations in order to advocate for key protections. Thanks in part to our efforts, the modified consent decree, signed in October of 2017, now includes: 

  1. Increased transparency on progress and costs of infrastructure projects.
  2. A pilot program to assist homeowners with clean up after sewage back-ups into their homes. 
  3. Requirement that the city study the causes of basement backups and prioritize the repair work needed to address them.


Blue Water Baltimore Lead Water Quality Scientist Alice Volpitta speaks to WJZ-13 News about the consent decree and the work underway on Baltimore’s water system. 

Moving Forward

Blue Water Baltimore looks forward to continuing to work with our city and state agencies and other concerned organizations to ensure that sewage overflows are eliminated public health is protected , and residents are informed about infrastructure and water quality progress. We will also continue to patrol Baltimore’s streams looking for sewage overflows or other pollutants in our waterways. If you see something that may be pollution, contact us directly on our Pollution Hotline 443-908-0696; our team will investigate, advise the authorities and let residents know if there is a problem.

One of the key ways that Blue Water Baltimore will track progress toward the consent decree’s clean water goals is our ongoing water quality Monitoring. Blue Water has collected monthly water quality data [harbor alert link] for more than 5 years in in our rivers, streams, and harbor. Over the long term, this data will help us see how the repair work is reducing pollution levels in the water.

We will also continue our efforts to keep Baltimore residents informed. Easy ways to get important information directly from the Department of Public Works include Signing up to receive notices on the Department of Public Works’ Sanitary Sewer Consent Decree Program Website, and learning about the expedited basement backup plan as well the other options for reimbursement through the city’s Sewage Backup Guide.

What You Can Do

Infrastructure and water pollution challenges affect all of Baltimore’s residents, and all of us can be part of the solution. From making your voice heard to elected officials to making sure you don’t  put pollutants down the drain, there are many things we can all do at home:. 

  • Stay Informed – keep up-to-date on the city’s plans, activities and progress. Learn how the city intends to respond to emergency sewage spills and incidents were sewage backs up into residential properties. 
  • Follow the city’s  progress in repairing our sewage system. Quarterly reports, like this one can be found on the DPW consent decree website.
  • Find our where sewage overflows have happened with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s map of sewage overflows.
  • Speak Up – Attend information meetings hosted by Department of Public Works and  by signing up for DPW emails or following their calendar of events.
  • Report suspected sewage leaks, suspected discharges, or other potential pollution to Blue Water Baltimore’s pollution hotline online form or by calling 443-908-0696.
  • Get Involved in community-level clean-ups.
  • Protect Our Pipes – Don’t pour fats, oils, greases, or medications down sinks or drains, whether your toilet, bathtub, or kitchen or bathroom sink.
  • Left-over or unused prescription medications can be dropped off at statewide locations; see this map
  • And don’t use “flushable” wipes (they are NOT truly flushable). Learn how to dispose of these and other items so they don’t reach our rivers and streams.