Swimmable Harbor? New report shows Baltimore harbor is cleaner, but not quite there yet
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Jane Miller, WBAL TV
BALTIMORE — A new report on the quality of water in Baltimore’s harbor shows improvement, though it may not yet be ready for regular swimming.
The report, written by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, marks 10 years since the effort to clean up the harbor began. It details steps that have been taken to reduce pollutants and bacteria.
“The harbor is cleaner, much cleaner than when we started 10 years ago, and we have the data to prove it,” said Mike Hankin, a board member of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.
The report said some areas of the harbor are now safe for swimming, especially in dry weather, but should not occur in areas where sediment on the bottom of the harbor is disturbed.
“We are thrilled to report that the water is much safer for recreation now than when we started,” Hankin said. “Water quality scores for fecal bacteria, a human health indicator, have improved significantly.”
The report finds 81% of 36 testing stations in Baltimore City have shown improving bacteria scores.
“Just a few weeks ago, I was filming video by the Inner Harbor and I saw something I had never seen in my life. I saw jellyfish, crabs and fish swimming actively in the harbor,” Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott said.
Notably, the report says, the Jones Falls has shown improvement. It is the largest stream that flows into the Inner Harbor and carries pollutants from both the city and Baltimore County.
The report notes the harbor still suffers from pollution caused by runoff and sewage leaks, especially during heavy rains. A $430 million project has been underway at the Back River Treatment Plant that’s expected to significantly reduce sewage spills. It should be completed early next year.
The report cites the work of Mr. Trash Wheel in contributing to the improved water quality. As of June, the devices have picked up more than 1,300 tons of trash since. There are plans to install a fourth trash wheel at the mouth of the Gwynns Falls stream in the harbor’s Middle Branch.
The next goal is to create a swimming area in the Inner Harbor. Planning is underway.
Hankin made a bold promise for next year, saying: “I will jump in and swim across the harbor. It’s doable. Today, the harbor is just as swimmable as bodies of water located in or adjacent to other cities.”
Scientists note that while bacteria levels are dropping in the harbor, levels of other pollutants in the waterway, such as sediment and nitrogen, are not. So they said just like more attention and money was put into sewage system repair, more attention must also be paid to stormwater management.