The Baltimore Department of Public Works (DPW) disclosed today that more than 7 million gallons of sewage mixed with rainwater surged into the Jones Falls over the weekend – including over a half-million gallons that bubbled up through a manhole cover on an East Baltimore street.
The overflows began amid heavy rain on Friday and were primarily at “structured outfall” locations, pipes built a century ago as release points, to relieve pressure when too much water enters the system.
According to DPW, 2.2 million gallons overflowed on July 28 from the above-ground structured outfall at 1901 Falls Road near the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.
On the same day, another 4.3 million gallons spilled directly into the Jones Falls underground from the outfall at 428 East Preston Street and 496,000 gallons from the outfall at North Charles and West Lanvale streets.
During two hours on Saturday afternoon in the 1800 block of East Eager Street, an estimated 589,000 gallons overflowed above-ground, according to a DPW news release.
The sewage-laced rainwater “came through a manhole and washed into storm drains,” the release said.
Violating the Clean Water Act
Federal officials sued the city years ago over the structured overflows, which permit millions of gallons of raw sewage to flow into local waterways and, ultimately, Chesapeake Bay.
After decades of poor upkeep, Baltimore’s sewer lines have blockage points and sags that can cause overflowing toilets and flooded basements in homes and businesses during heavy storms.
But the intentional “structured” releases of human waste into Herring Run, Gwynns Falls and other streams, as well as the Jones Falls, are in direct violation of the the 1973 Clean Water Act.
Baltimore City signed a consent decree in 2002 with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to correct the problem through improved engineering.
Originally requiring the city to be in compliance by December 31, 2015, the consent decree was extended to 2030 as the city copes with roughly $1 billion of upgrades to its sewer lines and the Back River and Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plants.
The problem of structured sewage overflows is specifically supposed to be fixed by July 1, 2022, according to the revised agreement.