Sewage Spill after Hurricane Irene Limits Shellfish Harvesting in Part of Chesapeake

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS -- Most of Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay will reopen to shellfish harvesting Sunday after a weeklong closure, but waters at the mouth of the Patapsco River will stay off limits due to a ruptured pipeline that continues to spew millions of gallons of waste into the river.

The Maryland Department of the Environment, which issued the closure in anticipation of possible contamination from Hurricane Irene, said most sewage spills across the state have been resolved. The exception is a break in the sewer main at the Patapsco Sewage Pumping Station in Baltimore Highlands. That pipeline carries one-third to one-half of all waste produced in Baltimore County.

First reported on Sunday, the rupture and a piece of weakened pipe found on Wednesday have been repaired, said David Fidler, spokesman for the county public works department. But two more cracks were found on Thursday far from the initial break.

"The fear was that if they didn’t repair this third piece and they put it back into operation, it would blow," Fidler said. "That's pushing the schedule a bit further."

Fidler said he expects the line to operate again by the end of Friday or early Saturday. In the meantime, it continues to spill sewage into the Patapsco River at a rate of 17 million gallons a day.

"Any time we have a sewage spill, it's not a good thing," said Jenn Aiosa, senior scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. But because of the Bay's size, "I don’t anticipate you're going to see long-term impacts that you can associate with this particular spill."

There will be a long-term effect on the Chesapeake Bay if the source of future spills is not addressed, Aiosa said.

"We have aging wastewater infrastructure across the state and really across the region," she said. "Just like any mechanical system, (the pipes) can erode. They can get holes or leaks and not be watertight."