On Tuesday April 19, Blue Water Baltimore conducted our first Outfall Screening Blitz of the year in the upper Stony Run. The Outfall Screening Blitz is a project in partnership with Ridge to Reefs and the Chesapeake Bay Trust that is focused on finding and eliminating pollution that is illegally entering Baltimore streams through the City’s stormwater system.
After walking a couple hundred feet up the Stony Run, we encountered a stormwater outfall that was discharging raw sewage into the stream. The pipe had a grey scum inside, smelled of sewage, and had tell-tale wastewater debris, such as toilet paper and food, underneath it.
The flow was just a trickle at first, but as we began taking samples the water started gushing out of the pipe – we believe that someone flushed a toilet, and that their sanitary sewer system is illegally connected directly into the stormwater system which empties into the Stony Run without treatment of any kind. Illegal connections like this are more common than you might think in Baltimore City, and there’s no telling how long raw sewage has been flowing from this pipe into the Stony Run.
Restoration Along the Stream
Just about a mile downstream of this spot, Trout Unlimited regularly stocks trout for the Stony Run’s annual Huck Finn Day. The event brings children and families out into their neighborhood stream to learn how to fish each fall.
And fishermen aren’t the only ones using the Stony Run — people regularly swim in the pools created by restoration projects along the stream, and nearby schools use the Stony Run as an outdoor classroom to conduct stream studies. The Stony Run path is one of the most prized walking trails in the entire City, used by people every single day.
But while people are swimming and fishing in the stream, a steady flow of sewage pours into this treasured waterway every day. This was the first sewage discharge we’ve found in the Stony Run as part of our Outfall Screening Blitz project, but it likely won’t be the last.
Just last year, we responded to two separate citizen pollution reports about sewage leaks in the Stony Run that were similar to this incident. Since 2013 Blue Water Baltimore has been tracking bacteria levels in the lower Stony Run on a monthly basis, and the results are clear — the Stony Run is chronically contaminated with fecal bacteria.
As you can see on our water quality website Harbor Alert, the Stony Run almost always exceeds safe levels for fecal bacteria, making it dangerous to swim, fish, or otherwise touch the water. This site routinely gets an “F” grade in our annual Healthy Harbor Report Card as well.
Outfall Screening Blitz Project
We’ve been working with the DPW on the Outfall Screening Blitz project since 2014, and routinely refer citizen pollution reports to their Surface Water Management division for additional follow up and for further investigation and enforcement. But it’s not just up to DPW to fix these problems, because many of them are located on private property. Instead, it’s up to homeowners and private property owners to not only fix these illegal sewer connections, but also to take care to avoid dumping anything in our stormdrains that will eventually end up in our streams.
This was just the first of many Outfall Screening Blitz events we’ll be holding in the Stony Run, the Western Run, and the Jones Falls this year. If you’re interested in joining us for a future event, sign up today for one of our upcoming Pollution Reporting 101 & OSB Training events.