Here’s your report on the sewage overflows from Monday’s rainfall

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Photo by Ethan McLeod

There was a lot of rain on Monday, and you know what that means, Baltimore: the city’s aging sewer system sent our sewage into the harbor.

According to the Department of Public Works, 1.3 million gallons of stormwater mixed with sewer water entered the Jones Falls thanks to the downpour.

The agency said the public should avoid contact with any of the waterways impacted by the overflows.

Cracking and leaky pipes in the century-old sewer contribute to the overflows, but so does the system’s design. There are several outflows–there used to be as many as 62–that purposefully divert sewage into local waterways when the system is overwhelmed.

As part a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency, the city is tasked with stopping waste from entering the harbor by 2030–well past an initial 2015 deadline set in 2002.

The agreement, updated in 2017, includes major upgrades at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant that must be completed by 2021, and the replacement of sewer mains and pipes by 2030.

Things are looking up with the former. A recent Healthy Harbor Initiative report found the Headworks Project, which would fix a 10-mile sewage backup under the streets of East Baltimore, is 35 percent complete and on track to be finished next year. DPW officials said the new infrastructure could reduce sewage overflows by 83 percent.

The same report found most areas of the Patapsco River Basin in Baltimore City and Baltimore County met acceptable standards for swimming nearly 100 percent of the time in 2018. Inside Baltimore City, tests revealed the Jones Falls was OK for human recreation 80 percent of the time.

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore Business Journal, b and others. Prior to joining Baltimore Fishbowl, he was an editor at City Paper from 2012 to 2017. He can be reached at [email protected]
Brandon Weigel

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  1. 62 “outfalls”- that’s the proper technical term for a pipe discharging to surface waters.

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