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Environmentby Fern Shen12:00 pmApr 25, 20160

Chinquapin Run sewage leak went 23 days before city reported it

Upstream was a sewage leak that one city agency had known about for days. Downstream was a fishing derby for kids organized by another agency.

Above: Chinquapin Run where sewage known to be leaking on March 30 is still flowing. (morgan.edu)

In a classic “Friday news dump,” the city informed the public last week that a Northeast Baltimore stream was becoming polluted with raw sewage.

“Crews working for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) will repair a 21-inch sewer main that has been found to be leaking into Chinquapin Run near Loch Raven Boulevard,” the city said in the Friday press release.

When was the sewer main “found to be leaking”?

DPW learned about it on Wednesday, March 30, spokesman Kurt Kocher said, after The Brew inquired.

As for why DPW waited 23 days to inform the public, the answer appears to be that the 15-gallon-per-hour leak hadn’t yet met the 10,000-gallon threshold for public disclosure.

DPW now predicts that by this week more than 10,000 gallons of raw sewage will have poured into Chinquapin Run, which flows into Herring Run and on to Back River and the Chesapeake Bay.

On Facebook, area residents were up in arms about the three-week-long wait before disclosure to the public.

“KNOWING full well that it’s been going on for a while now, they hosted a catch and release fishing derby in Herring Run. Which had just been ‘fully stocked’ with new trout, etc. Nice,” one woman wrote. “Glad we didn’t send our sons to participate!”

(This April 10 event, held downstream of the leak, was sponsored by the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks.)

“This is totally embarrassing and wrong. Our city MUST do something and I invite the Feds to fine away,” another person wrote. “This is a fundamental responsibility of govt. public health. Since the days of Cholera.”

Part of Larger Problem

David Flores, of Blue Water Baltimore, said the late disclosure via an “intentionally vague” news release was “disingenuous.”

“The City’s interpretation ignores the portion of the regs that require notification where an adverse impact is likely to occur, such as instances where human sewage spills with potential waterborne pathogens flow downstream to folks fishing,” Flores said.

He said it is also a sign of the city’s failure to address its aging sewer system decisively. “It’s emblematic of a larger problem that we have with leaks making our streams unsafe all over our city,” Flores said.

He noted that just last week Blue Water staffers discovered an illegal sewage discharge into Stony Run in North Baltimore while on a routine “Outfall Screening Blitz.”

“Folks are using Stony Run. They’re using Chinquapin Run. They should be able to enjoy these parts of the natural world where they live without having to be endangered by fecal contaminants from sewer leaks,” said Flores, who is the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.

The DPW release includes information about its efforts to address the problem: “Baltimore City is in the construction phase of the $1 billion Consent Decree rehabilitation of our sewer infrastructure.”

Not mentioned is the fact that last January 1, when Baltimore was required to have completed the repair of the leaking system under a 14-year-old decree, less than half the promised work was completed. Millions of gallons each year are still being released into city waterways and, ultimately, Chesapeake Bay.

A December report by the Environmental Integrity Project not only examined the reasons for the city’s failure to stop the sewage leaks, but also its failure to report the massive leaks to the state as required by law.  (Go HERE to listen to a WYPR interview in which the report’s author, Tom Pelton, and DPW spokesman Jeffrey Raymond discuss the sewage discharge reporting.)

Sewage Still Leaking

As for Chinquapin Run, the sewage appears to still be flowing, and just when the flow will stop is not clear.

The city will begin work on repairs “within three weeks and should take four weeks to complete,” according to the release. “In order to make sure the leak is corrected, some 600 feet of sewer main in the area of the waterway will need to be cleaned and lined, at an expected cost of $115,000.”

The leak was discovered by “a member of DPW’s Pollution Control team. . . through routine dye testing,” according to DPW.

Asked why the city did not stop the flow of sewage immediately, DPW’s Kocher answered this way: “It will continue to leak until repairs are done. Bypassing this at this location would be very costly. Materials for this repair are ordered, and plans prepared for the work.”

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