Maryland Outdoor Club
Sat, Nov 11 2006 - Walking Tour of Baltimore Sewers (View Original Event Details)

Event Organizer(s): Katie Stofer
Participants:Katie Stofer, Matt Toerper, charles lewis, gianna rossi, Kimberly Baum, Eric Scansen, Lynn Kingsley, Glenn Peddicord, Laura Eierman, lori andrulonis, Jason Dickey

Write Up:
Later in the afternoon of the Jones Falls cleanup, that beautiful fall afternoon saw about 20 MOC members join another 15 community members to walk along Stony Run with Guy Hollyday, chairman of the Baltimore Sanitary Sewer Oversight Commission. Guy walks this waterway frequently, looking for sewage overflows due to breakdowns in Baltimore's 100+ -year-old sewer system or to more water than the system can handle, such as in the weeks following heavy rains. Since the sanitary sewer and storm sewer systems in Baltimore are connected, heavy rains that literally flood the storm sewer system can lead to backups and leaks of the sanitary sewer system (ahem, your household wastewater). Stony Run below University Parkway is one of the stormwater lines that "runs constantly with sewage." (quote from Hollyday's handout to the group, 'Sewage 101')

We joined Guy on an annual trip he opens up to the interested public to learn about these very problems and what is being done about them. The beautiful walk along the creek almost made up for the often gross nature of what he was telling us happens after a rainstorm.

We walked along the waterway and Guy pointed out the two types of manholes - the sanitary system, which should be gurgling all the time, and the storm system, which should gurgle only after rain or other flooding (like Hurricane Isabel's storm surge). He also pointed out some covers that had overflowed, pointing out some raw sewage that was still visible, especially toilet paper (a nasty, greyish drippy mess). Leaves and other yard debris, as well as general litter, can also clog the storm systems and lead to overflows. Guy monitors these areas and tries to report any pollution or contamination he sees to the city so that they can find the source and correct the problem, whether it be a blockage, a leak, or a dumping by some group or business. Guy is always looking for volunteers to help monitor these areas, too, so if you are looking for a project, please let me know and I can put you in touch with him.

Besides the aging sewer system, the sheer number of people living in the area contribute to the problem - all our buildings and roads form what are called "impervious surfaces" - areas which can't absorb runoff water (from storms, from washing cars, etc.). That runoff thus has to all go directly into the storm sewer, along with all the dirt and pollutants that it picks up from those impervious surfaces. Yards and parks help by absorbing water into groundwater and naturally filtering out chemicals, but there is not nearly enough of this space left. Also, improper fertilization and overwatering of lawns can dump those excess chemicals from fertilizer (especially nitrogen and phosphorous), into our waterways, which drain into the Bay and compound those "nutrient loads" that are already clogging the Bay.

What can you do to help? First, don't litter, and pick up litter if you see it. If you have a lawn, fertilize it only when needed and only in the amount recommended. Also, during heavy rains, try to limit your water usage (try not to do laundry or run the dishwasher), to limit the water going into the system.

-Katie Stofer

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