No fast fix for fouled stream

Sewage seep­ing into city’s Chin­quapin Run started 6 months ago

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Scott Dance

For the past six months, tens of thou­sands of gal­lons of sewage have seeped from an aged pipe di­rectly into a North­east Bal­ti­more stream de­spite city ef­forts to iden­tify and fix the prob­lem — and it could be an­other three years be­fore the leak is re­paired, pub­lic works of­fi­cials say.

Waste is pol­lut­ing Chin­quapin Run in a wooded area just up­stream from its con­flu­ence with Her­ring Run near Mor­gan State Univer­sity. Wa­ter that trick­les over rocks be­neath a Loch Raven Boule­vard bridge turns cloudy and foul-smelling once it passes over a con­crete slab that crosses the stream.

Pressed by wa­ter-qual­ity ad­vo­cates, state en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tors have called on the city to fix the pipe. State of­fi­cials are also ask­ing the city to ex­plain why res­i­dents weren’t alerted that the con­tam­i­na­tion has con­tin­ued for months.

City pub­lic works of­fi­cials say it would be a waste of money to in­ves­ti­gate and fix what they sus­pect are leaky joints in the an­ti­quated sewage pip­ing. Spokesman Jef­frey Ray­mond said “there is a chance” a $25 mil­lion to $30 mil­lion project to re­place the main could be moved up in the city’s list of pri­or­i­ties. Work now is sched­uled to be­gin next spring and be com­pleted in 2019, he said.

“We’re re­do­ing essen­tially an en­tire sewer sys­tem, and if we move up this project, that moves an­other project back down,” Ray­mond said. “We’re aware of this but were also aware of other needs, and it’s a balanc­ing act. We want to move for­ward as fast as we can with all of th­ese, but we have to use the re­sources avail­able to us.”

The leak il­lus­trates the chal­lenges the city faces tack­ling $1.2 bil­lion in court-or­dered sewer re­pairs, deemed cru­cial to clean­ing up the In­ner Har­bor and Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, as the cen­tu­ry­old sys­tem crum­bles. Bal­ti­more is un­der a con­sent agree­ment with state and federal reg­u­la­tors that re­quires it to stop sewage leaks by 2030. The city missed a dead­line, set in 2002, to have that work com­pleted by the end of last year.

Wa­ter-qual­ity ad­vo­cates ex­pressed lit­tle sym­pa­thy with the city’s plight.

“The pub­lic should be out­raged that this sewage leak would just con­tinue un­abated ... without any ef­fort from the city to try to even mit­i­gate the im­pact,” said David Flores, the Bal­ti­more Har­bor Wa- ter­keeper. “It’s hard to get be­yond the fact that this has been on­go­ing since March.”

The city De­part­ment of Pub­lic Works first no­ti­fied the pub­lic of the Chin­quapin Run con­tam­i­na­tion in April, as re­quired by law any­time at least 10,000 gal­lons of sewage en­ters a wa­ter­way. At that time, it said waste had been cloud­ing the stream for three weeks and that it would be sev­eral more weeks be­fore re­pairs would be­gin.

The 21-inch main was re­leas­ing 15 gal­lons of sewage ev­ery hour, of­fi­cials said, mean­ing at least 15,000 gal­lons were es­ti­mated to have leaked into the Chin­quapin by the time re­pair ef­forts be­gan in May.

Sewage leaks are one of the big­gest detri­ments to wa­ter qual­ity in Bal­ti­more. They pose health risks to any­one who comes in con­tact with the In­ner Har­bor or other ur­ban wa­ter­ways, and they also con­trib­ute to the poor health of rivers and creeks and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay down­stream. Along with ni­tro­gen fer­til­izer runoff from farms, sewage fu­els al­gae blooms that cre­ate “dead zones” each sum­mer in the bay, with lit­tle to no oxy­gen.

City pub­lic works of­fi­cials con­sid­ered the prob­lem fixed May 26, af­ter crews re­lined two sec­tions of pipe to fill in cracks, ac­cord­ing to a let­ter that Madeleine Driscoll, chief of the pub­lic works de­part­ment’s of­fice of as­set man­age­ment, sent to the Mary­land De­part­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment in July. MDE pro­vided the let­ter to The Bal­ti­more Sun.

But field work­ers for wa­terqual­ity ad­vo­cate Blue Wa­ter Bal­ti­more con­tin­ued to ob­serve a cloudy, green­ish or gray­ish tint to the wa­ter and bits of toi­let pa­per float­ing down­stream from the main, Flores said.

In the let­ter, Driscoll told state of­fi­cials that wa­ter sam­ples in­di­cated the leak con­tin­ued, and that en­gi­neers sus­pected that the sewage was seep­ing from “nu­mer­ous joints along the pipe­line.” The clay pipe was built in the 1920s, its three-foot sec­tions con­nected and sealed to­gether us­ing ropes soaked in tar.

City of­fi­cials say they don’t know how much sewage has been leak­ing into the stream, which even­tu­ally flows into the Back River in east­ern Bal­ti­more County. If it has con­tin­ued at the same rate city of­fi­cials dis­closed in April, it would mean more than 60,000 gal­lons of un­treated sewage has washed into the stream.

And there is no easy way to stop it. The pub­lic works de­part­ment “has ex­plored im­ple­ment­ing short-term mea­sures ... but does not feel that th­ese are en­vi­ron­men­tally or fis­cally re­spon­si­ble,” Driscoll wrote in July. With the pipe sched­uled to be aban­doned and sewage by­passed to a new main by 2021, of­fi­cials told the state they would do more fre­quent wa­ter test­ing, in­stall a per­ma­nent hazard sign be­side the stream and pro­vide an­nual up­dates on the sta­tus of plans for re­pairs.

In a let­ter to city pub­lic works di­rec­tor Rudy Chow this month, Lynn Buhl, di­rec­tor of MDE’s wa­ter man­age­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion, said that wasn’t enough.

The state is de­mand­ing that the city fol­low state rules that it test the stream ev­ery three days, rather than monthly as Bal­ti­more of­fi­cials pro­posed; that it post a per­ma­nent sign about the con­tam­i­na­tion and no­tify the pub­lic via news re­leases, Face­book and Twit­ter; and that it jus­tify and doc­u­ment the rea­sons an im­me­di­ate fix is not fea­si­ble. Within 30 days of the let­ter, dated Sept. 9, MDE is ask­ing that the city re­veal its pro­posed time­line for the re­pairs.

For now, a plas­tic sign mounted to a wire stand de­clares a “tem­po­rary health warn­ing” at the edge of the wooded area near North­wood El­e­men­tary School and through the trees on the bank of the stream. A per­ma­nent sign on the bank warns, “Ur­ban streams are sub­ject to pol­lu­tants and runoff” and “Con­tact with the wa­ter should be avoided.” It does not men­tion any spe­cific risk.

“What rea­son do they have to not just put a sign out there that says very plainly, ‘There is an on­go­ing sewage leak, avoid con­tact’?” Flores said.

Though the leak is rel­a­tively small com­pared with oth­ers that are re­ported any­time a heavy rain in­un­dates the sewer sys­tem — the city re­ported more than 400,000 gal­lons leaked dur­ing storms this month — the on­go­ing na­ture of the prob­lem means a con­stant health risk, Flores said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.