A storm drain pipe has been spilling sewage into Stony Run in North Baltimore at least since May, contaminating an area where children frequently swim, city officials acknowledged yesterday.
The leak, located under University Parkway near the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, discharges up to 20 gallons of contaminated water a minute, said Robert H. Murrow, a spokesman for the city Department of Public Works. At a constant rate, that would be 28,800 gallons a day - a "medium" sewage spill under Maryland Department of the Environment guidelines.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions about a sewage spill in Stony Run incorrectly attributed details about the size of the spill to Robert H. Murrow, a spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works. The comments were made by Guy Hollyday of the Jones Falls Watershed Association. The Sun regrets the error.
DPW officials believed they had fixed the leak in early May, but it resumed two weeks later, Murrow said. Officials continue to perform tests and expect to locate the source of the sewage within several weeks.
City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson said his department posted five warning signs near the site of the spill two weeks ago, but none was present yesterday. Children often swing on a rope tied to a tree and jump into the water near the pipe.
While cautioning residents to avoid the contaminated area, Murrow said he believes the leak is not constant and not serious.
"Every leak is significant," he said. But this one "is not that big. The fact that it's intermittent lessens it a bit more."
Murrow added: "More than likely, this was put on a priority list but was not one of the top things. We do have a limited number of resources."
However, a community leader who monitors the Jones Falls waterway, which he said receives water from the creek, said the leak should be a top priority.
Guy Hollyday, chairman of the Jones Falls Watershed Association, said he noticed the leak in December and notified the public works department in February.
"Had I anticipated kids would be swimming in it, I would have dropped my other sewer projects and concentrated on this one," said Hollyday.
Murrow said he could not confirm when his department was first notified of the leak.
Disclosure of the leak occurs about two months after the city signed a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to clean up its sewer system. The settlement requires the city to eliminate sewage from waterways by 2016 by repairing the sewer system at an estimated cost of $940 million.
Searching for the source of the leak, DPW officials put dye in sewer pipes last week, but the dye did not appear in the stream. They plan to put a television camera in the stream this week.
Illegal hookup possible
"We've been working hard over the past two weeks on this," Murrow said. "We haven't been sitting on our hands."
It's possible the sewage is coming from a sewer line illegally hooked up to a residence or business, Murrow said.
Hollyday said the leak shows how much repair work the city's sewer system needs.
"This is decades of neglect," he said. "Here's a perfect example of where our city's fathers allowed this [bad pipes] to go down for decades. They don't do the repairs that are needed.
"I don't think the people in this city, particularly the city government, realize how important the recent consent decree is. It's going to cost us hundreds of millions of dollars, and someone needs to realize that this is for our health, not to make nice pipes in the ground.
"The city needs to wake up to the fact that what's been going on for decades has put us in a bad position for health," Hollyday said.