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A Baltimore public works crew found a sewage pipe routed within a larger storm drain. Officials said the sewage pipe had leaked sewage into the Jones Falls.
A Baltimore public works crew found a sewage pipe routed within a larger storm drain. Officials said the sewage pipe had leaked sewage into the Jones Falls. (Courtesy of Baltimore Department)

Baltimore sewer inspectors recently had reason to believe the city's century-old network of pipes had sprung another leak in an area of Woodberry near Clipper Mill.

What they found was no ordinary crack or break in an old sewer line.

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A Department of Public Works crew found a 100-year-old sewage pipe that had been routed within a larger storm drain installed only 82 years ago. And at some point within the last two decades, the 8-inch cast-iron pipe had been sawed off, resulting in sewage discharge into the Jones Falls.

How that happened is "lost to history," department spokesman Kurt Kocher said.

Crews stopped the sewage leak, discovered Sept. 28, this past weekend by installing a temporary bypass, department officials said Tuesday.

A massive lump of congealed fat, wet wipes and other detritus — dubbed the “fatberg” — is growing underneath the streets of Baltimore.

The department's pollution control team constantly tests cloudy streams and follows odors of ammonia as it works to satisfy a federal consent order to clean up Baltimore's fouled waterways, Kocher said. Fecal bacteria makes the Inner Harbor unsafe for human contact, and sewage also contributes to algae blooms and dead zones that throw off Patapsco River ecology.

A crew found the sawed-off pipe during one of those routine inspections in the 3500 block of Parkdale Avenue. It runs along the stone wall of a 6-foot by 7-foot stormwater tunnel.

It appears the pipe had been severed around the same time a modern PVC-pipe sewer connection was tied in to the line, likely some time in the early 2000s, Kocher said. Crews have not figured out where that PVC line comes from.

At one time, the sewer pipe led to a manhole about 1,000 feet away and into the sewer system, which is supposed to be closed and separate from stormwater runoff drainage. But at some point, someone sawed a section of it clean off, Kocher said.

City leaders have approved a 13-year, $1.6 billion effort to rehabilitate Baltimore’s aged sewer system and stop it from leaking into the Inner Harbor.

"Maybe they were cutting away and thought, 'This all connects up and it's all sewer,' but I don't know," he said.

A city contractor will be called to restore the connection to the sewage manhole in the next few weeks, officials said. In the longer term, public works officials plan to have the sewage line removed eventually from the storm drain.

Officials don't know how much the work will cost.

Before fixing the leak, they estimated the pipe dumped more than 10,000 gallons of sewage into the Jones Falls in just the first five days after it was discovered.

There's no telling how much dumped since it was first cut.

Sewage backs up into Baltimore homes more than a dozen times a day, on average. Repairs to fix the sewage system are expected to extend another decade.

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