Privately, officials at the Baltimore Department of Public Works have been candid that they made a major mistake in a federally-mandated, billion-dollar project to upgrade the city’s leaky and overwhelmed sewer system.
By closing off 60 sewage outfalls before they increased the capacity of the system, city contractors caused sewage to overflow into hundreds or potentially thousands of city homes during rain storms, flooding basements with human waste.
"We didn’t really know the right order to do things in, necessarily," said Dana Cooper, general counsel for the city department, speaking in her office in November. "And so when we closed those other 60 overflows that actually increased the number of basement backups that we saw in the city. Again, because the sewage has to go somewhere."
In public, however, city officials have taken a different position on who’s at fault for the rash of sewage floods in homes. Almost 5,000 city residents reported backups last year. City and federal officials often blame the victims in Baltimore and suggest that the city ratepayers are negligent by throwing things like carpets, shoes and sanitary napkins into the sewer system.