Harford reports sewage overflow from Irene

The Harford County Department of Public Works has reported an overflow of 263,000 gallons of raw, partially-treated sewage occurred during the height of Hurricane Irene last weekend.

Some, if not all, of the discharge probably reached the nearby waters of Bush River, the county said Friday.


But a county public works official also says the impact from the "torrential" rain from Irene late Saturday and early Sunday could have been a lot worse on the county's sewage collection system.

The overflow occurred between 1 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, at the Bill Bass Sewage Pumping Station in the first block of Kennard Avenue in Edgewood, the county government said Friday.


The station, which the county has acknowledged needs to be upgraded and expanded, is along the west shore of Bush River. It pumps sewage collected from the south side of Edgewood through a pipe under the river that goes to the Sod Run Wastewater Treatment plant on the east shore of the river in Perryman.

According to a county government news release, officials with the county's DPW reported the overflow incident to the Maryland Department of Environment.

The 263,000-gallon overflow discharge may have reached the Bush River, the county said, noting that the hurricane produced above average rainfall that exceeded and overwhelmed the station's design.

County spokesman Bob Thomas said DPW officials had advised that the station pumps were pumping at their maximum designed output, when the overflow occurred.

In a phone interview Friday, James C. Hynes Jr., the county's plant supervisor of water and sewer facilities, said the Bill Bass station was overwhelmed by the heavy flows coming into it that were caused by the rain from Irene.

"I had pumper trucks there and at our other facilities, but we couldn't keep up with it [at Bill Bass]," Hynes said Friday morning. "As it was, we did keep 47,000 gallons out of it [the river], but there is only so much you can do."

There are all sorts of reasons why sewage flows increase during periods of heavy rainfall, Hynes said, most of them related to stormwater infiltration and inflow caused by leaking pipes, storm drains that connect to sewage lines and illegal connections from private sump pumps.

The practice of connecting storm drains to sewage lines was ended decades ago but, as Hynes pointed out, not all such connections have been eliminated and likely never will be. He said DPW did find at least one illegal connection of a residential sump pump to a sewer line when a homeowner reported a water backup during the storm.


For much of Saturday and Sunday, Hynes said, he had six private sewage pumping and hauling companies working to reduce the flows into the county's pumping stations, as well as several pumper trucks the county DPW owns.

Pumping stations have what are called "wet wells" that are used as holding areas for the sewage as it comes to the station and is fed through pumps.

Hynes said the wet wells at Bill Bass, though old, are "well designed" and did an "excellent" job of containing the increased flows; however, the station pumps couldn't keep up.

The Bill Bass station is in line to have its capacity increased, Hynes said, a project still in design. A major upgrade is nearing completion at another major sewage pumping station just to the north, Bush Creek, which pumps sewage collected from as far north as Bel Air through another pipe under the Bush River to the treatment plant.

There were no overflows at Bush Creek or at any of the county's other sewage pumping facilities, Hynes said.

"We were extremely lucky," he said. "We had every crew working and all those trucks ready or another 167,000 gallons would have overflowed. That's pretty good; in fact, it's excellent."


In addition to the notification of the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Harford County Health Department was also notified of the Bill Bass overflow.

DPW has also posted overflow signage at water entry points as well as the entrance to the area.