Baltimore’s sewer system was not made to withstand the increasingly severe weather patterns and human waste volumes of the 21st century, as evidenced by the clockwork-like outflows of poopy water into the Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls and other waterways every time the city sees heavy rains. This sadly remained true for the last six days, when pummeling rainstorms sent at least 9.8 million gallons of mixed sewage and rainwater overflowing into local streams and the harbor.
The bulk of that nasty volume went to the Jones Falls, with an estimated 8.6 million or so gallons having entered from 21 sites as of last night, the city’s Department of Public Works said in a release this morning. The Inner Harbor, the city’s “crown jewel,” took in more than 1.1 million gallons of sewer water at four sites and the Gwynns Falls absorbed another 91,057 gallons of sewage, the agency said.
Downpours earlier this week sent an estimated 250,000 gallons of wastewater overflowing from the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant, located in Fairfield, into the Outer Harbor.
And officials say there was other damage: A manhole stack at Maidens Choice in Southwest Baltimore was destroyed, likely by debris moving down the stream, and a temporary construction road collapsed near Edmondson Avenue and Hilton Parkway, which sent debris crashing into the Gwynns Falls that severed two nearby sewer lines.
Bypass pumps are in place at Maidens Choice, though “the stream is still very unstable” and debris may be restricting flow in the pipes there, DPW says. Sewage is still overflowing at the latter location in the Gwynns Falls; the agency says it “continues to plan for bypass pumping” there.
Even with an extended dry spell to start off the month, the recent rains have made July Baltimore’s second-wettest month on record, the agency said.
The above sewage overflow totals are all preliminary—“data is still being processed,” DPW says—and forecasts says more rain is on the way today and early next week.
The city has promised its ongoing overhaul of the sewer system, including the $430 million Headworks project to alleviate stubborn, miles-long sewage backups leading out to the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in the county, will erase more than 80 percent of sewage overflows from Baltimore’s pipes. But for now, storms bring rain, and rain sends our waste into our own natural waterways.