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Summer of the sewer overflow for Baltimore's Jones Falls

Summer of the sewer overflow for Baltimore's Jones Falls
Flooding along the Jones Falls at Meadow Mill during one of the July storms that resulted in an overflow of sewage-tainted stormwater from the city's decrepit sewer system. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Pity the Jones Falls.

The tributary to the Patapsco River that runs from Baltimore County through north Baltimore along Interstate 83 into the Inner Harbor has had a stinker of a summer.

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The second-rainiest summer on record has forced the urban stream to absorb tens of millions of gallons of sewage-tainted stormwater overflowing from Baltimore’s decrepit sewer system.

The latest release came after remnants of Hurricane Florence brought heavy rains to the region Tuesday. Baltimore’s Department of Public Works said Friday the rains overwhelmed the sewer system and the excess was diverted into streams. Again.

It was at least the eighth time this summer that the department announced or updated such overflows.

The latest one resulted in 19 million gallons of stormwater mixed with human waste — a polluted stew of bacteria, pathogens, chemicals and nutrients — flowing mostly into the Jones Falls.

A week earlier, public works officials said a Sept. 9 storm resulted in 24.5 million gallons of stormwater mixed with sewage entering the Jones Falls. An additional 3,000 gallons overflowed into the Gwynns Falls, which runs through West Baltimore to the Inner Harbor.

Other releases came Sept. 5 (6.4 million gallons, with 4.3 million into the Jones Falls), Aug. 24 (3.1 million gallons into the Jones Falls) and Aug. 16 (592,000 gallons).

So much overflowed in July — the rainiest July on record — that the city sent out three releases, updating the numbers. The last one came Aug. 7 and reported more than 85 million gallons released into city streams.

The structured outfalls where much of the tainted stormwater flows from were designed as part of Baltimore’s aging sewer network more than 100 years ago to keep the system from being overwhelmed.

Under a 2002 consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland Department of the Environment, the city was supposed to stop such overflows by 2010. After the city missed that deadline, it reached a deal with regulators in 2016 to fix the problem by 2021. That deal was approved by a federal judge last fall.

The city is spending $2 billion to rehabilitate its sewer system and eliminate the structured overflows, but until that work is complete, it’s best to stay out of the urban waterways, public works officials said.

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