Healthy Harbor Report Card Shows Water Off Fort McHenry is Swimmable 89% of the Time

| June 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore’s Healthy Harbor Initiative, in partnership with Blue Water Baltimore, recently released the 2016 Healthy Harbor Report Card. While the overall grades for the water quality of the harbor remain poor, there are some improvements as well as some interesting results.

The report card, which grades the health of four distinct waterways in Baltimore and the surrounding counties, revealed failing grades for the Baltimore Harbor, tidal portion of the Patapsco River, and Jones Falls. The Gwynns Falls received a D-, passing for a second year.

From the report:

The biggest change in 2016 was the improvement in fecal bacteria scores in the Baltimore Harbor and Tidal Patapsco River. Despite the millions of gallons of sewage that overflowed from the City’s failing infrastructure, monitoring sites in the Harbor showed fecal bacteria scores improved by an average of 32 points compared to 2015. More data is needed to know if these improvements are part of a larger trend.

According to the report, most of Baltimore’s water problems are attributed to fecal bacteria, storm-induced pollution problems, and low water clarity. The report stresses the importance of repairing and upgrading the storm drain and sewer system as quickly as possible.

Bluewater Baltimore is getting proactive in identifying Baltimore’s infrastructure issues. From the report:

In 2016, Blue Water Baltimore trained 72 volunteers and manually surveyed 78 stormwater outfalls along twelve miles of the Stony Run, Western Run, Herring Run and Jones Falls streams. 24 samples were found to contain wash water, eight contained drinking water, and 13 contained sewage.

These findings were reported to DPW where, with the help of cutting- edge technology provided by Ridge to Reefs and funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, staff tracked down pollution sources more accurately than ever before. According to a DPW report, the agency carried out 71 pollution investigations resulting in the elimination of 26 sources in 2014. With help from Blue Water Baltimore, those numbers jumped dramatically in 2015, when 244 investigations resulted in the elimination of 90 pollution sources, and a further 103 pollution sources in 2016. By directing DPW to specific outfalls the City is able to reduce water pollution in the most cost effective way, freeing up resources for more pressing infrastructure issues.

The Baltimore Department of Public Works is becoming proactive in seeking out smaller problems before they become massive headaches and ensuring that repairs address underlying issues, not just their consequences. Such was the case with three large sinkholes that formed in West Baltimore and Mount Vernon when sections of a seven-foot sewer pipe collapsed, carrying away streets and utilities.

In the past, DPW would have done smaller repairs at each location. This time, however, DPW addressed the root of the cause by going both behind and ahead of the sinkholes to do a complete relining of the pipe; essentially building a new pipe within the old one. The project cost close to $20 million, but this fix will prevent more expensive sinkholes from forming in the future.

DPW also works to find sewage sources within the storm drain system.

Another improvement has been the addition of water wheels that intercept trash before it enters the harbor. Mr. Trash Wheel was added at the end of 2014 where the Jones Falls meets the Inner Harbor. In 2016, Mr. Trash Wheel collected 163 tons of trash, 181,548 Styrofoam containers, and 1,919,600 cigarette butts. This is down from 239 tons of trash in 2015. The report offered a few guesses for the decrease, including the City’s implementation of near-citywide street sweeping and the distribution of municipal trash cans.

Baltimore now has a second trash wheel at the mouth of the Harris Creek in Canton. Thanks to more than 600 donations from individuals, businesses, and foundations in 36 states and eight countries, according to the report, Professor Trash Wheel was fully funded and installed in December 2016.

Another key source of trash flow into the harbor, especially in the Middle Branch, is the Gwynns Falls. The South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, which is funded by casino Local Impact Grants from Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, Maryland Live, and MGM Grand National Harbor; and Sagamore Development have both pledged funding towards this wheel.  The Gwynns Falls watershed collects runoff from Reisterstown down into South Baltimore.

The swimming grades also showed some interesting results. When studying fecal bacteria standard for swimming, the report showed that while the Inner Harbor water near Federal Hill and Fells Point is only swimmable 20% of the time, the water right outside Fort McHenry is swimmable 89% of the time. The Middle Branch water comes in at 38% and the water off the tip of Port Covington at 75%. The water beyond the Key Bridge is swimmable 100% of the time.

Image from the 2016 Healthy Harbor Report Card


“2016 was an exciting year for water quality in Baltimore,” said Adam Lindquist, director of the Healthy Harbor Initiative. “We installed a second trash wheel, collected our 1 millionth pound of trash from the water, and hosted the first ever paddling rally in the Inner Harbor, the Floatilla for a Healthy Harbor. People are ready for a truly recreational Harbor, and it’s up to all of us to continue working on these and other important projects until our grades improve.”

“The 2016 report card is a call to action for anyone and everyone who cares about the environmental health of Baltimore,” said Carl Simon, interim executive director at Blue Water Baltimore.  “It is imperative that we continue this long-term assessment of our waterways while taking urgent action to scale up the investments to Baltimore’s infrastructure.”

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