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Fresh Water, Foul Sewage

The Dripby Brew Editors6:50 pmFeb 5, 20180

2 million gallons of sewage released into the Jones Falls

Meanwhile, city approves $172,000 to a victim of multiple basement sewage backups

Above: Warning signs are permanently posted at 1901 Falls Road, where Baltimore released 161,000 gallons of sewage-mixed-with-rainwater Sunday into the Jones Falls. (Fern Shen)

Heavy rains washed 2.3 million gallons of diluted sewage into the Jones Falls Sunday, the city’s latest release of human waste from its inadequate sewer system.

The two overflows occurred underground between 6 and 11 p.m., with 161,000 gallons released at 1901 Falls Road and 2.3 million gallons released at 401 East Preston Street, according to the Department of Public Works.

These so-called “structured overflows” are the result of pipes designed to relieve pressure when rainfall infiltrates sewer mains and threatens to overwhelm the system, causing basement back-ups.

Heavy rains last summer sent millions of gallons of sewage into city waterways and, ultimately, the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay.

In violation of the Clean Water Act, the city has promised to end the overflows under a federal consent decree, which was renegotiated after DPW failed to meet its 2015 deadline.

The city now is on pace to complete Phase I of the agreement, which calls for sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) to be eliminated by January 1, 2021, DPW director Rudy Chow said at a public meeting last month.

Dollars Flowing, Too

Roughly $1 billion of upgrades are underway, aimed at increasing the system’s capacity and bringing Baltimore into compliance with the decree.

But Baltimore’s failing sewers also leave taxpayers on the hook in the form of settlements with homeowners who have experienced sewage back-ups that have fouled their basements and ruined their possessions.

Raw sewage spilled into the plaintiff’s basement from the sewer lines, damaging the walls, surface, floors and fixture.  Mold and mildew began to spread in the plaintiff’s basement.

The latest of these was disclosed last week when the city’s Board of Estimates approved a $172,246.95 payment to a Northwest Baltimore woman who suffered ten sewer backups over five years.

The suit, filed by Stacia Vaughn, of the Glen neighborhood, describes the first of these, which occurred on November 21, 2013:

“Raw sewage spilled into the plaintiff’s basement from the sewer lines, damaging the walls, surface, floors, fixtures and other parts of the plaintiff’s basement and damaging plaintiff’s goods,” the complaint, filed in Circuit Court in Baltimore, alleges.

“In addition, mold and mildew began to spread in the plaintiff’s basement,” Vaughn’s complaint states.

Subsequent overflows occurred in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, according to the Board of Estimates.

Before the overflows began, Vaughn said she and her neighbors had repeatedly asked the city to fix the pipes, but they failed to do so.

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