Record wet June leaves sewage spills, soaked farms in Harford, Cecil

A large puddle sits along Vale Road in Bel Air Tuesday afternoon. June was the wettest month on record in Maryland and Harford County since 1972, the year of Hurricane Agnes, and more rain is expected into July.
A large puddle sits along Vale Road in Bel Air Tuesday afternoon. June was the wettest month on record in Maryland and Harford County since 1972, the year of Hurricane Agnes, and more rain is expected into July. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun)

If you feel like you're still struggling to dry out from the rain in recent weeks, you are not alone.

The rainfall in June not only shattered Baltimore-area records for precipitation, it swamped crops and wastewater treatment systems throughout Harford and Cecil counties and is blamed for a major sewage spill in Perryville.


More than 13 inches of rainfall for the month was recorded at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport after the heavy rains Saturday, making this June the fourth wettest month ever. That, however, was before more rain moved across the area earlier this week, right through Tuesday evening.

The National Weather Service at BWI Marshall said Thursday morning they have not finished compiling the total rainfall for June. "Give us a couple more days," a spokesperson said.


Even before Saturday's storms, the amount of rainfall measured for June at BWI Marshall, the region's point of record, had reached 9.98 inches, three-hundredths of an inch more than what fell in June 1972, the year Tropical Storm Agnes hit Maryland, causing floods that wreaked havoc on both sides of the Susquehanna River.

Agnes dropped more than 6 inches at BWI over two days, from June 21-22, 1972, setting rainfall records for both days. Harford County received 5 to 7 inches, according to historical data provided by the county 911 Center to The Aegis on the 40th anniversary of the storm.

On June 24, 1972, the swollen Susquehanna River crested just two feet from the top of Conowingo Dam. Water flow through the dam, whose 53 flood gates were opened for the first and only time in the 86-year-old dam's history, set an all-time record of 1,300,000 cubic feet per second, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

With all the rain over the past week, the flow through Conowingo was being measured in the 77,000 to 78,500 cubic feet per second range from 9:30 a.m. Monday through 6 p.m. Wednesday, according to flow data on the USGS website.


Perryville and Aberdeen both experienced sewage overflows because of the heavy rains this month.

On June 23, about 250,000 to 275,000 gallons of wastewater spilled from a broken main into the creek under the railroad underpass on Perryville's Broad Street, town officials reported.

The town warned residents to avoid contact with the water from the so-called "Amtrak Creek" to the Susquehanna River.

On Saturday evening, about 9,955 gallons of sewage overflowed from five manholes in Aberdeen, city officials said.

Aberdeen got 2.53 inches of rainfall within five hours Saturday, according to a public service announcement sent by the city.

The sewage spilled into unnamed tributaries that eventually reached Romney Creek, according to the announcement. Public works officials cleaned up the areas and posted warnings about water contact around the creek.

"Because the ground is extremely saturated, the water runs off and it elevates the groundwater table, if there are cracks in the lines, the water gets into the lines and causes challenges in our wastewater treatment plant processing because we have all that additional water coming into our wastewater treatment plant," Aberdeen public works director Kyle Torster said Wednesday.

The city has two tanks that can hold water that has been diverted in the case of high rainfall amounts.

"It gives us an additional buffer so we avoid any violation," Torster said. "This month of June has been extremely trying with the ground being saturated."

About the lines, he said: "Long-term, we know there are several sections in our system that need to be upsized."

Other parts of Harford County seemed to fare relatively well after the storms.

Havre de Grace had some sewage back-ups in residents' basements but no spills, spokesperson Jim Newby said. Five or six trees in the city were also knocked down, he said.

"It was not really bad, for as much rain as we had," Newby said. "I have seen a lot worse."

Some sticks were clogging storm drains, debris was in some roads in the Town of Bel Air, but there were no other issues, Public Works Director Steve Kline said Wednesday.

"Fortunately, we have not had any, because [the rain] has been spread out enough that we never really got in trouble with it," he said, noting it did cause some delays in projects like patching asphalt.

"We just have an inordinate amount of limbs and so forth," Kline said.

No overflows were experienced at Harford County's sewage collection and treatment system, county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said.

"In general, we monitor the system and our system is large enough to handle rain storms such as the one last week," she said Wednesday.

The storms last week did down trees and cause power outages, property damage and road closures, Mumby noted.

"Heavy rain also affects the sewer system when water comes in through manhole covers and groundwater, and then seeps into the older pipes in our system, some of which are terra-cotta and date back to the 1960s," Mumby said, explaining newer, PVC pipes are not affected.

"The extra water increases the flow of wastewater and the county adjusts treatment because the waste water is diluted," she said.

'A muddy mess'

Farmers, perhaps more than anyone else, are especially tuned in to the weather. They constantly work to find the golden middle between "too wet" and "too dry."

With the rain this past month, "it's been too much," Mike Doran, president of Harford County Farm Bureau, said with a laugh. "We don't want to holler about it too loud because July and August are usually dry, but it's making it very hard to get things done right now, especially these sporadic showers."

Grains like barley and wheat, as well as hay and straw, have been completely washed out in some cases, he said. That affects the livelihood of farmers like Doran, who mostly produces hay for the area's horse farms.

"It's just flat-out a muddy mess," he said of the rain. "Anybody and everybody in general through the farming industry, everyone is sharing their problems with it."

Earlier, "some people stopped planting because it was so dry, and then we just started getting hammered," Doran said. "The people that are doing hay, we need several days of good, dry weather... It's making it nearly impossible to get hay."

Stay tuned

One organization that has been happy with all the water is Maryland American Water. The company serves customers in Bel Air and parts of Forest Hill and Fallston.

"This rain has been great for that system," spokesperson Samantha Villegas said Wednesday. "It's just great that we have it, that water in Bel Air likely is replenishing."

She added she suspects the flow in Winters Run is doing better as well.

While June is over, the rainy weather continues, with sporadic outbursts of downpours forecast throughout the July 4 weekend and potentially the later half of next week.


No specific storm system seems to be causing the rain, Matt Elliott, a National Weather Service meteorologist for the Baltimore-Washington region, said Monday.


He called it a "muddled pattern" for the week.

"This week is a little less clear, as far as what days have the best chances" of rain, he said. "Almost each day we have a chance of rain in the forecast. There could be some storms around on the Fourth [of July] as well."

Fortunately, he noted, "there's no extreme heat this weekend, which is certainly welcome for people out and about."

The Baltimore Sun contributed to this story.

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