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Environmentby Fern Shen11:10 amJun 22, 20160

With heavy rain, again came sewage releases

Baltimore discloses “engineered overflows” into the Jones Falls at Preston Street and Falls Road

Above: Erosion along the bike path above the sewer outfall on Falls Road Tuesday evening. (Mark Reutter)

The smell of sewage was strong this morning in the 1900 block of Falls Road, one of two spots where more than 10,000 gallons of sewage-saturated water was released into the Jones Falls during yesterday’s pounding rainstorm.

Nothing was flowing from the approximately 24-inch pipe just below the roadbed this morning. But pushed-down grass and bits of trash showed the route of the sewage-laced stormwater leading down to Jones Falls.

This spot near the Baltimore Streetcar Museum (Sanitary Sewer Outfall 67) and another located behind a Maryland Parole and Probation Field Office at 428 East Preston Street (SSO 72) were just two of the places where sewage from the city’s failing infrastructure spilled over into streams, rivers, the harbor and, ultimately, Chesapeake Bay yesterday.

Brown water reeking with a fecal odor also poured into the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, a reader reported.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) confirmed that sewage was released yesterday at SSOs 67 and 72. The pipes are “structured overflows,” as the agency refers to pipes designed to release sewage into city waterways to relieve pressure on its sewer system.

There were no estimates of the amount released, but the agency disclosed the pollution event because its estimates it will exceed the state-mandated reporting threshold of 10,000 gallons.

Under Scrutiny

DPW workers yesterday were struggling, amid the torrential downpour, to deal with other infrastructure woes.

A massive sinkhole appeared on York Road in Cockeysville on Monday, caused by a broken  20-inch water main. DPW, which maintains water and sewer systems in portions of the county, said yesterday they were hoping to have the main repaired and water service restored to the estimated 3,000 customers who had lost it.

The infrastructure DPW maintains is also in the spotlight as the city announces its renegotiation of a 2002 consent decree to fix its sewers and stop polluting waterways.

Among the upgrades  the city was to have made under the old decree’s January 1 deadline was an end to the practice of releasing sewage via structured overflows. The original date for stopping the overflows was 2009.

Between December 1, 2015 and March 31, Outfall 72 alone released nearly 30 million gallons of sewage and rainwater into the Jones Falls.

The city has also come under criticism for failure to report sewage releases to the Maryland Department of the Environment as required by state law. A February release from SSO 67 and and SSO 72 – first reported as 164,000 gallons – was ultimately reported as over 12 million gallons after officials responded to multiple inquiries by The Brew.

A number of provisions in the draft consent decree, including reports to the state within 24 hours of any overflow, are aimed at improving DPW’s public disclosure practices.

In a press release yesterday, the agency said it would “calculate the amount of overflows from these discharges and report them to the Maryland Department of the Environment” and that it had notified the Baltimore Health Department of the overflows.

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