Back River Head­works Project to solve sewage backup

The Dundalk Eagle - - EDITORIAL - By BRAD KRO­NER bkro­ner@ches­pub.com

Head­ing into the Back River Waste­water Treat­ment Plant on East­ern Av­enue is a ten-mile sewage backup that goes back into the City of Bal­ti­more, near Jones Falls, ac­cord­ing to Bal­ti­more’s Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works (DPW).

A plan to re­solve this is­sue — thereby re­duc­ing 80 per­cent of sewage over­flow in Bal­ti­more’s sewer sys­tem — is cur­rently in the de­sign stage and will be­gin con­struc­tion in mid-2017, ac­cord­ing to Kurt Kocher, the pub­lic re­la­tions co­or­di­na­tor for the city DPW.

The 10 foot pipe is es­sen­tially a collection pipe that fun­nels waste into the plant for treat­ment. En­gi­neers found that the pipe is dis­placed, in­hibit­ing a steady flow of sewage and caus­ing a backup.

“Whether through de­sign or age, the hy­draulics of the plant is off,” Kocher said.

When the sewage en­ters the collection pipe, it par­tially hits a brick wall, he ex­plained.

Bal­ti­more’s sewer sys­tem was first built over a hun­dred years ago. Prior to the sys­tem’s ex­is­tence, ci­ti­zens would dump waste and sewage into Jones Falls or other streams.

“There wasn’t a lot of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­scious­ness back then,” Kocher said.

Now, the sys­tem is in need of re­pairs. Kocher said that pieces of brick and con­crete some­times fall from the pipes — which he de­scribed as “gi­gan­tic tun­nels.” Most of these pipes are at least 6.5 feet in di­am­e­ter.

The plan is slightly be­hind sched­ule, Kocher said, ex­plain­ing that they hoped to be in the con­struc­tion phase by now.

En­gi­neers for the city es­ti­mated that the project would cost $350 mil­lion. Af­ter they sent bids to con­trac­tors, they found that it would cost $440 mil­lion.

Mike Gal­lagher, a di­vi­sion chief at the treat­ment plant who pre­vi­ously worked as a plant en­gi­neer, said city en­gi­neers are work­ing on what he called “value engi­neer­ing” to cut the cost.

Gal­lagher said they want a plan that “will ac­com­plish the ba­sic goals” with­out spend­ing $100 mil­lion more than planned.

The City of Bal­ti­more is re­quired by a le­gal agree­ment to com­plete the project, known as the Back River Head­works Project, by 2021. En­ter­ing a con­sent de­cree In 2002, the Mary­land Depart­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment (MDE) and the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) al­leged that the City of Bal­ti­more was in vi­o­la­tion of the Clean Wa­ter Act by al­low­ing sewage wa­ter to dis­charge into the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and its trib­u­taries, in­clud­ing Back River and the Pat­ap­sco River, when heavy rains over­loaded the city’s sewer sys­tem.

As a re­sult, the EPA and the MDE en­tered into a con­sent de­cree with the City of Bal­ti­more to re­pair and en­hance the ag­ing sewer sys­tem, man­aged in part from the Back

The “golden eggs” at the treat­ment plant can hold 3 mil­lion gal­lons of sludge. The sludge is treated be­fore be­ing re­cy­cled as com­post or fer­til­izer ma­te­rial. Some is burned for elec­tri­cal en­ergy.

PHOTOS BY BRAD KRO­NER

The Back River Waste­water Treat­ment Plant is lo­cated on East­ern Av­enue.

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