Water Blog

News, notes and thoughts from Blue Water Baltimore.

Working Together: Teaming up with the Baltimore City Department of Public Works to Reduce Pollution in Baltimore’s Waterways

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Baltimore’s leaky pipe system is one of the biggest sources of pollution to our local streams, rivers, and Harbor.  Cracks in the pipes and illegal connections bring millions of gallons of sewage, wash water, and drinking water into our streams every year.  The City’s Municipal Separate Stormwater Sewer System (aka the MS4, or just “the stormwater system” for short) acts as a high-speed highway that sends pollutants directly into our streams and Baltimore Harbor via large outfalls at the end of the pipes, even when we haven’t had a drop of rain.  It can be very difficult to eliminate the discharges coming from these outfalls since it requires careful tracking through the pipe system to find the source of the pollution, something that can only legally be done by local, state, or federal government agencies. This detective work needs the right equipment, perseverance, and diligent follow up by City and non-profit staff members to communicate and drive towards solutions.

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Thanks to an innovative partnership between Blue Water Baltimore, Ridge to Reefs, and Baltimore City Department of Public Works, with funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, we’re cleaning up Baltimore’s streams one outfall at a time. Blue Water Baltimore’s Outfall Screening Blitz program trains volunteers to identify the different types of pollution and illicit discharges that enter our streams and harbor, as well as who to report that pollution to.  Volunteers join staff members for field events in which they collect water samples to identify potentially contaminated outfalls.  We report contaminated outfalls to the Department of Public Works, creating an efficient and streamlined process for the DPW to address suspected-contaminated outfalls as quickly as possible.

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Thanks to the addition of new tracking equipment acquired by the Water Quality Section at DPW based on project recommendations and some cutting-edge instrumentation introduced by the Ridge to Reefs team, the Pollution Control Analysts at DPW have been able to track down these pollution sources faster than ever.  Earlier this year, Blue Water Baltimore volunteers found a stormwater outfall in the Western Run stream that we suspected was contaminated with sewage.  After we reported the issue to the City, they were able to track down the source of the pollution and fix a sewer pipe that had been infiltrated by tree roots.  We are happy the City has improved communications with the public on these issues, and we are seeing success through this joint initiative. By directing the DPW to specific “hot” outfalls, we can reduce pollution in our waterways in the most cost effective way possible.

While the Outfall Screening Blitz program is on hiatus for the winter, you can stay updated about future opportunities for pollution identification and reporting by signing up to receive emails from Blue Water Baltimore.