The Clean Water Blog

Basement sewage backups: a public hearing and next steps

Last month, we gathered at Baltimore City Hall with City Council members, community association presidents, faith leaders, insurance and health experts, and people from all across the city who have been impacted by the problem of sewage backing up into their home. This chronic problem impacts thousands of people each year - and as we have learned over the past year, the newest city program intended to help isn't working. Before the public hearing, people from across the city spoke out about their experiences at a rally outside of city hall: please watch and share our Facebook livestream!

The public hearing went on for nearly four hours of expert testimony, DPW response, and stories from Baltimore residents who have dealt with sewage backups over and over again. Learn all the details on:

  • the Baltimore Sun (“It’s not acceptable for the city’s system to just dump sewage into the basements of homes and businesses and churches every time there’s a hard rain,” said Craig Bettenhausen of Church of the Guardian Angel)
  • the Real News Network ("What happened to the other $1,985,000 set aside each year for the reimbursement program? They’re sitting in an account year to year," said Councilman Kristerfer Burnett)
  • WBAL ("It seems like there is something missing that we're not being told because you almost have an incentive to not spend the money every year," said Councilman Kristerfer Burnett)
  • Our blog post by CWA Maryland intern Solomon Brooks, with a summary and quotes from individuals' testimony
  • Youtube, where a full recording of the hearing is available

At the hearing, we learned a lot of interesting information: how much it can cost to safely disinfect a basement after a sewage backup, making the city's $2,500 cap on reimbursement inadequate; that city council members, the Maryland Insurance Administration, and even the Director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management had not been informed about the reimbursement program; and how other cities, like Cincinnatti, Ohio, have begun providing direct, cost-free clean up assistance to make sure residents aren't left to clean up the mess and expose themselves to dangerous bacteria. We also left with a lot of questions: like what is happening with the money set aside to assist residents with sewage backups that isn't getting spent, or how exactly residents who experience sewer backups are informed of their reimbursement options. The City Council will be convening a second hearing about this issue in the new year - stay tuned.

With part two of the hearing coming up, there's still time to submit written comments to the City Council about sewage backups! In the meantime, keep an eye out for friends and neighbors who are experiencing sewage backups, share news about the reimbursement program on Facebook, Nextdoor, and Twitter, and contact me if a sewage backup happens to you or someone you know. Also please reach out if a sewage backup has happened to you in the past, or if you want to be involved in preparing for part two of the City Council hearing and work to make sure that Baltimore City pays up for backups.