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August downpour results in sewage overflow of 12 million gallons

Baltimore city officials belatedly disclosed Friday that sewage overflows topped 12 million gallons during last week's downpour, four times what had previously been acknowledged. It was the most untreated waste reported spilled in the city in a single day since 2006, according to state records.

Top managers of the city Department of Public Works just learned Friday of three previously unreported overflows during the Aug. 12 rainstorm, according to department spokesman Jeffrey Raymond.

Officials now estimate that "more than 9 million gallons" of diluted but raw sewage bubbled up from rain-filled sewer lines on Eager Street at Durham Street in East Baltimore, in the 1700 block of E. Chase St. not far from the Johns Hopkins medical campus and in the 2100 block of Wicomico Street in Southwest Baltimore.

Raymond said that city officials notified the Maryland Department of the Environment of the additional overflows Friday. State regulations require prompt public reporting of sewage spills and overflows, and the city spokesman acknowledged that state regulators "will be looking" at the tardy report.

Late last week, public works officials had reported nearly 3.2 million gallons of sewage overflowed into the Patapsco River during the storm three days earlier. Nearly all of that sewage came from the Patapsco wastewater treatment plant itself, officials said, with a smaller spill of 23,000 gallons into the Jones Falls from the 1900 block of Falls Road.

The Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper posted a video on Facebook late Thursday showing gray and brown water surging into the street during the storm from manholes in two of the locations the city has now reported — the 1700 block of E. Chase St. and at Eager and Durham streets.

Raymond said he wasn't clear how public works staff learned of the other three overflows, or how long they had known. But he added "it bubbled up to the administrative level" on Friday.

"We're dealing with it now that we have it," he said. "But the info did not get where it needed to get."

Raymond said the overflows were caused by more than 6 inches of rainfall — the second-highest one-day total ever for the city — which overwhelmed storm drains and flooded the city's sanitary sewer lines, causing them to leak and overflow.

The city has been under a federal consent decree since 2002 to fix Baltimore's overflow-prone sewer system, a major source of pollution rendering the city's streams and harbor unswimmable. The multi-year repairs, projected to cost $1 billion, are supposed to be complete by 2016.

The updated report of sewage spilled from last week's storm exceeds the annual overflow totals the city has reported for the past seven years. The last time this much sewage was lost in a single day occurred in November 2006, when 32 million gallons flowed from a pumping station into the Jones Falls, according to a state database of sewage overflows.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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