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Building a Better Baltimore

How Baltimore’s infrastructure projects are putting the charm back in charm city.

By Dr. Jason W. Mitchell

In May, the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) cut the ribbon on the brand-new Headworks project. The $429 million Headworks project is part of the City of Baltimore’s multi-billion-dollar wet weather program to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) within the collection system to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and eliminate health concerns caused by the overflows to the residents. The Headworks project is estimated to stop a significant volume of the current sewage overflowing the City’s old sanitary sewer system. The Headworks project helps protect local waterways, provides for sustainable growth and sets a new standard for the City of Baltimore’s public works projects.

The Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, originally constructed in 1907, is owned and operated by the City of Baltimore. The plant occupies a 466-acre site, operates 24-hours a day, year-round, and treats 180 million gallons per day (MGD) of wastewater from Baltimore City and Baltimore County. This plant serves an estimated 1.3 million residents in a 140 square mile area.

Under the terms of the City of Baltimore’s Modified Wet Weather Consent Decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works commits to eliminate SSOs by December of 2020. The City of Baltimore developed and adopted a comprehensive wet weather management plan which identified hydraulic restrictions at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. The hydraulic restrictions caused miles-long sewage backups in the sewer system during wet weather events and contributed to the SSOs.

The Headworks project, designed by JMT and constructed by joint venture Clark/Ulliman Schutte, replaced the plant’s existing headworks to eliminate the hydraulic restrictions and increase the plant influent capacity from the historical 425 MGD to more than 650 MGD. To eliminate the hydraulic restrictions, the design incorporated a new influent pumping station to create a free discharge hydraulic condition at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. Additionally, the project included several new treatment facilities, including a Coarse Screen Facility, Fine Screen Facility, Grit Removal Facility, and two sizable wet weather equalization (EQ) storage tanks with a total storage capacity of 36 million gallons. These tanks will safely handle excess flows into the plant until flows reduce and can be routed through the normal treatment process.

The residents will directly benefit from the Headworks project, which is designed to reduce sanitary sewer overflows and improve water quality in local waterways. This long-awaited project aims to eliminate sewage overflowing the City’s old sanitary sewer system to enhance the quality of water in streams, the Baltimore Harbor, and the Chesapeake Bay. Elimination of the sewage backup, which can sometimes stretch from the Back River plant to Charles Village, is key in meeting water quality advocates’ goal of making the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable.

Along with the massive Headworks project, Baltimore City is currently in the process of covering our three open water reservoirs as part of an unfunded EPA mandate. Covering the City’s finished water reservoirs will enable the Department of Public Works to restrict public access to Baltimore’s drinking water supply to qualified and authorized personnel as a means of protecting public health. Furthermore, it will reduce taxpayer-funded operational costs associated with additional disinfection required for exposed drinking water reservoirs.

This Fall, we will complete improvements to the Guilford Reservoir. This includes constructing two (2) 6.3 million gallons buried pre-stressed concrete finished water storage tanks, inlet and outlet, tank by-pass mains, flow facilities and site enhancements and grading. In the Spring of 2023, we will complete improvements to Druid Lake. These improvements include the construction of two (2) large-diameter prestressed concrete tanks with a total capacity of over 50 million gallons and the installation of associated piping, in addition to various improvements to Druid Hill Park. Finally, in the Summer of 2023, we will complete improvements to the Ashburton Reservoir. These improvements include constructing two (2) large-diameter prestressed concrete tanks with a total capacity of 50 million gallons, a distribution building to facilitate operations at the adjacent Ashburton Pumping Station, installing associated piping and various improvements in Hanlon Park.

These communities will directly benefit from the City’s infrastructure improvements with new resident amenities at each location. Imagine all that Baltimore City can do to improve the physical infrastructure and the resident experience with this new infrastructure funding.

Dr. Jason W. Mitchell is director for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works