That Nature Show: Where Does Your Sewage Go?

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This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks! Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you. 

When my kids, now 7 and 9  were little, there was a children’s book that got famous called Everybody Poops. Here’s the movie version.  

I thought my potty training days were over, but here’s the deal: right now, as I write this, there are about five guys in my basement with what looks like giant dental equipment dealing with what I foolishly thought was simply a clogged shower drain, but turns out is a massive problem going from my house to the main sewer line in the ground several yards into the backyard and needing the assistance of a backhoe and a jackhammer. Something about tree roots, and terra-cotta,  also something about over-zealous use of toilet paper. When I heard this I turned to my children grimly, and said, “Have you been balling up the Charmin?”

Helpfully, the Baltimore County Public Works Department has a section literally titled Sewer: Frequently Asked Questions.  You’d never know it was there on the website, until you have a problem. Just like indoor plumbing.  You ignore it and take it for granted that your eliminations and those of your family are whisked away by elves, or gnomes or something until the elves go on strike and your basement bathroom is ankle-deep in the smelly rough stuff of life that no one likes to talk about let alone have five guys in your basement deal with. It’s embarrassing.  You weren’t ready for company.

But on a good day, on a day when it is not backing up into your laundry room,  or into tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay as it did in August of this year, where does the sewage go? That’s an interesting question. So I did some research and learned that Baltimore was “one of the last cities on the east cost to construct a proper sewage system.”  (Anyone reminded of the Muppet business Gonzo’s Royal Flush?)

Today, according to Blue Water Baltimore, there are more that 3,000 miles of sewer lines and 110 pumping stations. There are more miles of sewer line than there are city streets. Your sewage goes one of two places: the Patapsco River Sewage Treatment Plant or The Back River Plant, which serves “an estimated 1.3 million residents in 140 square miles of Baltimore City and County.” Take a short online tour of the plant. (But please note: NSFW.)

I also learned that, though majestic trees beautify a yard, underground it’s war. Their search for water is incessant and they will root into the seams of old terra-cotta pipes and party like it’s 1999. 

Join me again next week for another installment of As The Toilet Flushes. In the meantime, wholeheartedly, without reservations thank anyone you know who’s a plumber.






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