Today, Baltimore and Maryland officials held a formal ribbon-cutting to celebrate the completion of the Headworks Project, a $429 million upgrade to the city’s Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant that’s designed to prevent sewer overflows.
The city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) estimates the project will eliminate more than 80 percent of the volume of sewage overflows from the city’s antiquated sewer system.
For decades, pipes leading to the wastewater plant would get backed up during wet weather, causing hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage overflows into Jones Falls. The polluted water later flows into the Baltimore Harbor and then the Chesapeake Bay.
The Headworks Project is a major component of Baltimore’s effort to meet the Sanitary Sewer Consent Decree that the city first agreed to nearly two decades ago. The consent decree, which is a settlement approved by a federal judge, requires the city to stem the overflows by upgrading its crumbling sewer system, which was built in 1909.
The consistent sewer overflows in the city have caused major pollution issues in Jones Falls and the Baltimore Harbor, which remain unsafe to swim and fish. Sewer overflows can significantly raise bacteria levels such as E. coli and Enterococci in waterways. These types of bacteria are known to cause serious infections including meningitis and diverticulitis. The overflows could also fuel harmful algal blooms and contaminate fish in the water, making them unsafe to eat.
The sewage backups would regularly spill out into homes as well, causing property damage and creating public health risks. These are a significant burden on residents, who are often left with the task and costs of cleaning up.
Now that the Headworks Project is online, the city is moving into the second phase of meeting the consent decree, which will largely focus on upgrading aging pipes and other issues in the system.
CBF Maryland Executive Director Josh Kurtz issued the following statement about the Headworks Project coming online:
“Baltimore is another step closer to having a swimmable and fishable harbor. We’re hopeful that this project’s completion will stop the sewer overflows that plagued city residents and surrounding waterways.
“While this type of public infrastructure investment may not be easily seen, over time, the payoff will come for Baltimore residents who will have fewer sewer backups and, ideally, increased access to clean water. CBF has long advocated for this project to be funded and completed, so seeing it come online after years of work is cause for celebration.”