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Study: Climate Change Impacts Gwynn Falls Watershed

Raw sewage mixed with stormwater surges out of a damaged sewer manhole next to Herring Run. (Blue Water Baltimore)
Raw sewage mixed with stormwater surges out of a damaged sewer manhole next to Herring Run. (Blue Water Baltimore)
April 17, 2018

BALTIMORE – It's not that big of a surprise to learn that sewage overflows are bad for overall water quality, but a new study details its negative impact in the Gwynn Falls watershed.

The study by the U.S. Geological Survey, Blue Water Baltimore and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies tracked surface water data in the watershed for 20 years.

Alice Volpitta, a lead water quality scientist with Blue Water Baltimore, says they now are able to see why water quality is getting better or worse - for instance, if sewer pipes clogged with giant grease balls are forcing raw, untreated sewage to back up into streets.

"Unsurprisingly, the closer you get to the more urban areas of the Gwynn Falls watershed, the worse water quality seems to be and the more sewage overflows are degrading water quality," she explains.

The study found stormwater projects have been helpful to improving water quality but it also found climate change is causing increases in rainfall over time.

Volpitta says the increase in precipitation is happening during winter when the soil is not primed to soak up excess water. She says this is problematic because their research shows a continuing trend.

"So really, we are facing an uphill battle and it's a serious problem, and you're seeing the impact of climate change, but that makes the work that organizations like Bluewater Baltimore is doing so much more important now than ever before," she says.

The research also points to ways people can help by not pouring fats and oils into sinks or dumping trash into storm drains.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MD