Harbor Heartbeat Report Shows Most of the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch is Swimmable More Than 60% of the Time

| June 8, 2018 | 0 Comments

Waterfront Partnership unveiled its Harbor Heartbeat Report. This brand-new report expands the scope of the report card issued in previous years to cover seven key indicators of harbor health: fecal bacteria, sewer repairs, pollution tracking, litter and debris, restoration projects, ecosystem health, and volunteering.

“2017 was another exciting year for water quality in Baltimore,” said Adam Lindquist, director of the Waterfront Partnership’s Healthy Harbor Initiative, in a press release. “City and state officials broke ground on a $430 million infrastructure project that will reduce sewer overflows by 80%, we helped ban foam containers and over 14,000 volunteers helped to restore Baltimore’s streams and Harbor. When the people of Baltimore use their voices, take action and get their hands dirty – that’s when we see real change being made.”

“After five years of issuing a report card, we decided it was time for a change,” added Lindquist. “When we started there were no trash wheels, we weren’t growing a quarter of a million oysters in the Inner Harbor and partners in the City and County weren’t putting as many projects in the ground as they are today. Harbor Heartbeat provides a much more complete picture of how restoration efforts are going.”

According to the Harbor Heartbeat, most of Baltimore’s water problems continue to be attributed to fecal bacteria, storm-induced pollution problems, and low water clarity. The report stresses the importance of public action and outlines ways that the public can help with restoration efforts.

The $430-million sewer infrastructure project will relieve a continuous 10-mile backup of sewage beneath the streets of East Baltimore, greatly reducing sewer overflows and improving the health of waterways like the Jones Falls stream and the Baltimore Harbor. The sewage is on its way to the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. Since digging up and replacing the massive pipe would be too difficult, the plan is to use a series of hydraulic pumps and tanks to keep the wastewater flowing at all times.

The improvements at the Back River treatment plant are one major requirement of the consent decree, a legal settlement between the City, Maryland Department of the Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The other major requirement is that the City assess, repair or replace its 1,400 miles of sewer pipes. Together, these efforts will cost more than $1 billion and are predicted to reduce sewer overflows in Baltimore City by 80% by the end of 2020.

Currently most of the water in the Middle Branch and Inner Harbor of the Patapsoco River surrounding South Baltimore is swimmable more than 63% of the time. The Inner Harbor around Harborplace and Rash Field is swimmable 50% of the time, the Inner Harbor around Locust Point is swimmable 75% of the time, the Patapsco River is swimmable 88% of the time around Fort McHenry, 75% of the time in the Middle Branch east of the Hanover Street Bridge, and 63% of the time west of the Hanover Street Bridge. The Patapsco River is swimmable 100% of the time near the City lines at Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties.

Trash remains an issue for the Patapsco River. Baltimore’s third trash collecting wheel was installed at Masonville Cove in Brooklyn last week. Another is expected on the Gwynns Falls near Horseshoe Casino Baltimore in the future.

Waterfront Partnership’s top five takeaways from the Harbor Heartbeat Report report include:

1. Fecal bacteria levels in Baltimore’s streams and Harbor, monitored by Blue Water

2. Although data shows improved bacteria scores, Waterfront Partnership cannot state what specific actions caused these improvements. More years of data are needed to determine if changes are part of a larger trend.

3. 150 tons less trash was collected from the Harbor in 2017, compared in 2016, which advocates attribute to less rainfall as well as the City’s decision to provide trash cans to all residents and increase street sweeping.

4. Conductivity in the streams continues to be the worst performing indicator with a score of eight percent. Salts and other pollutants are carried into our streams when it rains, raising the conductivity to unsafe levels for fish and other wildlife.

5. Over the last four years, Baltimore City DPW found and repaired 279 pollution sources in the City’s sewer and storm drain pipes and more than doubled its capacity to perform pollution investigations.

How the public can help, according to Waterfront Partnership:

-Identifying and reporting pollution to local government by calling 311 is important in addressing some of the largest sources of pollution. Pollution can also be reported directly to the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at www.bluewaterbaltimore.org or by calling 443-908-0696.

-Residents and businesses can also install restoration processes like planting trees and native gardens to curtail the fastest growing source of water pollution.

-Lastly, the public can take care in always disposing of trash properly while spreading the word to reduce littering.

About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, father of three, amateur pizza chef, skateboarder, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.