They say it never rains but it pours, and in Baltimore, every time it pours, raw sewage is released into the waterways.
On Sunday, around 5.7 million gallons of wastewater mixed with rainwater poured into the Jones Falls, and 36,000 gallons overflowed into the Western Run, according to the Baltimore Department of Public Works.
Angela Haren, director of advocacy for Blue Water Baltimore, calls it a threat to public health.
“The sewage system is failing,” she said.
Such releases happen every time it rains heavily in the city: precipitation enters the sewer mains through cracks and breaks, overwhelming it. The releases are intentional “structured overflows,” designed as part of the city’s sewer system over 100 years ago.
All but two of the outflows into the Jones Falls have been closed, and the remaining ones must be closed within the next few years under a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Haren acknowledged that the sewage “has to go somewhere.” It can also often back up into city basements, on average a dozen times a day in recent years, though public works officials say those backups decreased last year.
Though the overflows are by design, they’re still against the law, Haren said. According to DPW, they are being eliminated as part of the city’s $2 billion consent decree sewer rehabilitation work.
In the meantime, DPW reminds the public to avoid contact with the waterways due to the pollution.
Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this story.