On Saturday, June 27 the Baltimore region was drenched with over three inches of rainfall in a matter of hours. Whenever large rainstorms like these hit Baltimore, stormwater runoff leaks into our sanitary sewer system through cracks in aging pipes.
As a result, the capacity of sewage pipes is overwhelmed and causes massive sewage overflows in locations throughout the City, including the Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls, Herring Run, and Harbor.
Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper Reports
David Flores, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, gives a firsthand account of several of these overflows in the 2000 block of Falls Road on the Lower Jones Falls:
I was on the Jones Falls between 4:00 and 5:30 pm on Saturday where I witnessed and documented the City’s sewage overflow pipe gushing sewage directly into the Jones Falls. Based upon prior flow monitoring performed by the City of this sewage overflow pipe during similar storms, I suspect that this pipe discharged hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage throughout the late afternoon and into the evening of June 27.
About twenty minutes into my survey at this location, I witnessed and documented, along with a Baltimore Sun photographer, at least five different sanitary sewer manhole structures overflowing with mixed infiltrated stormwater and raw sewage onto Falls Road and directly into the Jones Falls.
Mandated Public Safety Protocols
Sewage pooled on the roadway, presenting a hazard for dozens of motorists who drove through it. Although I reported the overflow to the City shortly after 4:00 pm on Saturday, I did not see any cordon, barriers or temporary signage in the area when I returned to the site the next morning. These are mandated public safety protocols intended to protect the public from the health risk associated with coming into contact with raw sewage.
Wastewater debris, such as condoms, grease-balls, and toilet paper, still littered the Jones Falls Trail. Unfortunately, I witnessed several cyclists and runners unknowingly pass through this sewage contamination and ponded sewage on the Trail during my follow-up survey.
Fixing the Infrastructure
We know the City has been planning to fix infrastructure that will correct this problem with tax payer funded revenue, but those projects are several more years down the road according to the City.
Our goal at Blue Water Baltimore is to advocate for a more timely implementation of these desperately needed upgrades. While we wait, we want to adequately warn individuals who are walking through Baltimore City streets, biking to work, or paddling in our waterways to be aware of the high levels of sewage they may encounter.
The City did not provide a public water quality advisory urging the public to avoid water contact for the 48-72 hours following the massive sewage overflows, as is required by Maryland state law, and is commonly done in surrounding counties.
Baltimore Harbor Water Alert
Blue Water Baltimore routinely monitors the Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls, and Baltimore Harbor for fecal bacteria following large storm events and sewage overflows. Our data demonstrate that the water is hazardous after these events, with levels of fecal bacteria much higher than the weakest standard for water contact.
We are concerned to hear reports of people kayaking and conducting other water recreation on the Baltimore Harbor on Sunday after documenting such extensive sewage overflows to the Jones Falls the evening prior. We hope in the future that more people become aware of the issue and use caution around Baltimore waterways after large rain storms.
Stand Against Pollution
Visit our Baltimore Harbor Water Alert, to view local water quality conditions.
Report pollution through our website.
Become an Adopt-A-Stream volunteer to restore your neighborhood streams to health.
Engage in Advocacy to influence an outcome on clean water issues.
Follow us on Facebook for news on our fieldwork and citizen action to make our waterways suitable for recreation.