Downpour produced massive sewage overflows

Rain-diluted waste flooded garage, spilled into Jones Falls

March 14, 2011|By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun

When it rains hard, sewage pours in Baltimore, it seems. Nearly 4.7 million gallons of untreated but diluted wastewater overflowed from city sewer lines during Thursday's downpour, spilling down city streets and flooding the lower level of the Penn Station parking garage, a city public works spokesman said Monday.

Six different major sewage overflows occurred in the city, according to spokesman Kurt Kocher, with the largest dumping 4.4 million gallons into the Jones Falls in the 400 block of E. Eager St. near the Baltimore Detention Center.

At the Penn Station garage, the pressure popped manhole covers that had been bolted down, spilling 84,000 gallons into the lower level, where cars had to be towed out.

The overall sewage overflow for that one day surpassed all the spills reported by the city for the previous two years combined — 1.6 million gallons in 2010 and 2.2 million gallons in 2009. Sewage overflows and chronic dry-weather leaks are among the major causes of the high bacteria levels that render Baltimore's harbor and the streams that feed into it unsafe for swimming or wading.

Kocher attributed the overflows to massive amounts of rainwater "infiltrating" sewer lines, leaking into the pipes carrying wastewater and filling them to capacity and beyond. More than 2.6 inches of rain were measured officially at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, but well over 3 inches were reported at locations around the city and in the suburbs.

"With that much rainfall coming down, that much infiltration," he said, "we can do a little with pumps here and there, but there's not much you can do with that much force."

All the overflows subsided after the rains stopped, the spokesman said.

The public works department is in the midst of a $1 billion rehabilitation of the city's aging, leaky sewer system, Kocher noted. While that effort won't be finished for several more years, he said, city officials hope a major cleaning scheduled this year of a main sewer line leading from the Eastern Avenue pumping station will help reduce overflows.

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