Water Blog - Thunderstorms Challenge Baltimore’s Waterways

News, notes and thoughts from Blue Water Baltimore.



Thunderstorms Challenge Baltimore’s Waterways Sewage

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Intense thunderstorms last month brought huge chunks of hail to some areas, caused widespread flooding, and led to massive sewage overflows in the Jones Falls corridor. Raw sewage and wastewater debris exploded out of the manholes along the Jones Falls trail, settling on the path that is used every day by joggers, walkers, and cyclists.

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The sewage sludge continued down the Jones Falls stream and emptied into the Baltimore Harbor. Several large grease balls, the byproduct of too many FOG’s (Fats, Oils, and Grease) in our sewer system, were found floating in the water at the Downtown Sailing Center. While these clumps of grease are a telltale sign of recent sewer overflows, many of the biggest threats to water quality are often harder to see.

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Unhealthy Bacteria Levels in our Waterways

Sewer overflows and stormwater runoff dump enormous quantities of nutrients and bacteria into our waterways, making it unsafe to touch the water and spurring the growth of harmful algal blooms, which can be toxic to both humans and fish. Our most recent monitoring data suggests that there are currently elevated and unhealthy levels of fecal bacteria and Nitrogen throughout our streams and Harbor.

Recently, the Baltimore Harbor and many of the tributaries to the tidal Patapsco River experienced a mahogany tide, an intense algae bloom that is fed by these excessive nutrients.  You may have seen the reddish color in the Baltimore Harbor a few weeks ago. While the algae itself is relatively harmless in this case (although some species are toxic), blooms like these can lead to wide-spread fish kills in the area.

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Stream Bank Erosion

With every major storm our region sees, intense stream bank erosion sends plumes of sediment into our streams, Harbor, and Patapsco River. Since our watersheds are covered in so much impervious surface, most of this stormwater runoff gets sent directly into our streams and carries heavy loads of sediment and toxic contaminants, such as PCSs and chromium, with it. The sediment eventually settles to the bottom of the streams and rivers, smothering any submerged aquatic vegetation or vulnerable life (e.g. aquatic insects, fish eggs) in its path.

Sediment_Plume

Protect our Waterways

It’s been a rough spring and early summer for our waterways. We’ve already been seeing the negative effects of intense storms, record rainfall for the month of June, and high air temperatures on our local water quality.