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Barbara Mikulski
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Senators push for upgrades at Md. water plant

Maryland’s senators are asking for federal funding to overhaul a 99-year-old water filtration facility in Baltimore.

On Monday, senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski toured the Montebello Filtration Plant in Northeast Baltimore, completed in 1915, to highlight the need for federal investments in the nation’s decaying infrastructure, particularly water systems.

The Montebello facility is part of a water system that includes pipes and equipment that date back to 1881.

Cardin on Monday called the facility “old and costly.”

“We’re way behind,” said Cardin, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Committee for the Environment and Public Works. “It was the best of its time 100 years ago, but it’s not today and we need to invest. People expect and demand safe drinking water, and it’s at risk.”

The facility, which processes both drinking water and wastewater, can take in up to 128 million gallons of water per day, drawing from the Loch Raven Reservoir and the Susquehanna River.

But the system’s inefficiencies are clear, according to the plant’s supervisor Herbert Naylor, who said each day roughly 5 million gallons of water are lost due to leaky pipes; when water mains burst, the city can lose an additional 5 million gallons per day. In January of this year, Baltimore saw a record-breaking 353 water main breaks.

Art Shapiro, chief engineer for the Baltimore Department of Public Works, said it would cost between $300 million and $500 million to modernize the facility. However, Shapiro said that because the plant is so old it requires more maintenance, manpower and money than contemporary facilities.

“By being penny-wise and pound-foolish, they think they’re saving money by not modernizing the infrastructure locally and it’s costing more,” said Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. “The older the equipment, the more intense the manpower issues. We’re not saving money by not modernizing, it’s the opposite.”

To modernize water infrastructure nationwide, Mikulski and Cardin estimated a cost of $700 billion.