The Baltimore City Department of Public Works announced it has negotiated an extension to a 2002 federal consent decree forcing the city to revamp and improve its sewer and storm water system.
The remaining fixes, though, are going to cost: More than a billion dollars, according to Rudy Chow, who heads up the project. Baltimore residents have seen their water and sewer bills more than double since 2008 to pay for the upgrades.
The "billion dollar" figure is as timeless as it is bogus. Herewith, a short history:
- 2008: "Five years ago, a 'consent decree' was entered in the matter. Under the decree, the city must spend almost a billion dollars over 14 years, starting in late 2002."
- 2011: "And under a federal consent decree, the city expects to spend $1 billion to fix aged, failing sewer lines that routinely overflow, dumping raw waste into streams that flow into the harbor."
- 2013: "The city, however, still faces about $1 billion worth of upgrades to comply with the Clean Water Act and to stop the overflow of untreated sewage into streams and the harbor, [DPW Director Rudy] Chow said."
- 2016 (today's press release): "The future work is estimated to cost well above $1 billion."
To be fair, the department does break down the expenses so far and future costs, as it understands them. The department says it has spent $867.4 million so far on consent decree work, plans another $630.1 million on "phase 1" of the remainder, which it hopes to complete by 2021, and estimates it will spend $584.4 million on a "phase 2" project, scheduled to be done by 2030. There's another $85 million or so for program management and other related costs.
That sums to a bit more than $2 billion for the sewer work. It more than doubles the original time table—a pretty long time to wait if you're living with a basement full of shit, which a lot of people are.
For future reference, the current best estimate of the city's water works spending is reflected in the bond cap, which was raised two years ago to $4.5 billion.