More than 12 million gallons of wastewater from toilets, showers and sink drains across Baltimore were released Wednesday into the Jones Falls to relieve a sewer system overloaded by heavy rain, city officials said Friday.
The announcement of the intentional release, one of the largest in years, marks one of a handful of times in recent history city officials have notified the public when heavy rain forced them to discharge wastewater from two pipes that flow directly into the Jones Falls, said David Flores, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, who works for the watchdog group Blue Water Baltimore.
A December report by a Washington-based advocacy group, the Environmental Integrity Project, faulted the city for dumping 330 million gallons of wastewater into the harbor over five years and failing to disclose the contamination.
Friday's announcement came a day after city public works officials said 200,000 gallons of wastewater made their way into the Patapsco River and Inner Harbor after overflowing from manholes and from the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Facility. Those releases were not intentional.
Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the city Department of Public Works, said officials decided to announce the contamination after receiving several inquiries about it since Wednesday.
Flores said he was glad city officials disclosed the massive discharge — though he said the actual amount of sewage-contaminated water was likely even larger.
"I think that's a really important development as far as building public awareness," Flores said of the city's disclosure. "This is exactly what we've been asking them to do."
The discharges announced Friday came from two outflows designed a century ago to relieve the city's aged sewage system and prevent sewage from backing up into homes and businesses.
The city said 9.3 million gallons of wastewater were released from an outflow at 428 E. Preston St., where the Jones Falls runs underground between Guilford and Greenmount avenues. Another 3.1 million gallons were released from the second outflow at 1901 Falls Road, a point just before the Jones Falls flows underground.
Flores said he saw evidence wastewater was also released out of manholes along Falls Road, next to and downstream from the outflow. He said he found tampons, condoms and wet wipes strewn across the street.
The intentional release of the 12 million gallons of untreated wastewater is one of the largest in recent years, according to data reported to regulators through September 2015 included in the Environmental Integrity Project report. It represents 10 percent of the total amount the city reported releasing in all of 2014.
The release from the Preston Street outflow was the largest since a nearly 11 million-gallon discharge in August 2014. That year also saw an 18 million-gallon release in March and 46 million gallons released over three days in late April and early May. There were only three discharges from the outflow larger than Wednesday's between 2011 and 2013.
The system designed a century ago once included 62 outflows; 60 have been closed.
Public works officials said Thursday that they also estimated about 150,000 gallons of wastewater flowed out of manholes in the area of the 1700 block of E. Chase St. in East Baltimore. Another 50,000 gallons overflowed from the Patapsco treatment plant when the facility lost power, officials said.
More than 2 inches of rain fell within two hours Wednesday night as heavy storms passed through the region.
The city is still striving to comply with orders from federal and state environmental regulators to fix its leaking sewage system. Repairs and upgrades required by an agreement struck in 2002 remained incomplete when a deadline for the work passed at the end of 2015.
Raymond said the city is negotiating with environmental regulators on a revised agreement and new deadline.
Meanwhile, city public works officials said they are continuing some $100 million worth of projects on the sewer system. A major project at the Back River Sewage Treatment Plant is expected to increase the capacity of that facility — and allow the city to close the final remaining two outflows into the Jones Falls.