Baltimore’s culture and economy is defined by its waterways, especially Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; but the ecosystem is suffering. Healthy Harbor seeks to change that and make the water swimmable and fishable by 2020.

To locals, Baltimore's Inner Harbor is notoriously... Fishy. We have all heard stories about tourists and locals alike being rushed to local hospitals for emergency treatment after coming in contact with the harbor water. On an especially hot day in July of 2016, a group of tourists decided to go for a dip into the harbor water. A bystander started recording and the video went viral in the Baltimore community. In the video you can hear locals shouting in protest: “They are from Chicago! They don’t know no better!” Many viewers expressed genuine concern for the health of those in the water. [embed]https://youtu.be/-Eny_smyF2I[/embed]

So, what is really in the water?

According to the most recent “Water Quality Report Card”, the largest contributor to the poor water quality is fecal bacteria. Baltimore’s inner harbor has received an “F” in this category for the past three years. This is due to the city’s aging sewage system that leaks tons of sewage into the harbor and its tributaries each month. While fecal bacteria is one of the largest health concerns for humans swimming or fishing in the water, other factors also contribute to the health of the aquatic life in Baltimore's harbor. [caption id="attachment_1302" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Baltimore's Inner Harbor A water quality advisory found posted by an entrance to the Jones Falls waterway[/caption]   The harbor scored an “F” in the category of Chlorophyl a, which indicates the amount of algae and therein the level of dissolved oxygen. Dissolved oxygen is essential for aquatic life such as shellfish, fish, and bacteria; luckily the harbor scored a “B-” in this department, as well as in the total Phosphorus category. “F”s were also given in the categories of total Nitrogen and water clarity, both essential factors in creating a healthy ecosystem. Despite these failing grades year after year, one group of hardworking activists refuses to be discouraged. Healthy Harbor Baltimore believes there are solutions for all of these problems, and they have already begun implementing them with some success.

However, will it be swimmable and fishable by 2020?

The Healthy Harbor Plan is a ten-year strategy (released in 2011) for making Baltimore's Inner Harbor safe for swimming and fishing. This plan outlines goals for city and county government, residents, and businesses. The website for the initiative emphasizes that no specific entity alone is responsible for making the harbor healthy or for implementing their plan; however, the project hopes that some of their goals can be met through partnerships with government, businesses, neighborhood groups, and non-profits. The goals outlined in the plan fall into three categories:
  • Fecal Bacteria
  • Trash and Litter
  • Polluted Stormwater Runoff
The full plan as well as a summary of the plan are available for download here. The Healthy Harbor plan has already gained some recognition for the implementation of “Mr. Trash Wheel,” its imaginative and effective plan for addressing the problem of trash and litter in the water way.  [caption id="attachment_1292" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Baltimore Harbor, Healthy Harbor Mr. Trash Wheel hard at work.[/caption] The Inner Harbor Water Wheel, or “Mr. Trash Wheel,” sits at the mouth of the Jones Falls river. It is a solar-powered wheel that pulls water out of the water and deposits it in a dumpster. The Jones Falls runs through downtown Baltimore city, collecting trash, sewage, and run-off. The wheel started turning in spring of 2014 and since has collected 1,147,660 pounds of litter and debris. It has prevented nearly 400,000 plastic bottles, over nine million cigarette butts, and 280,000 plastic bags from entering the harbor. Mr. Trash Wheel has become a local celebrity with his own Twitter account and his own live-feed where you can watch him work. While Mr. Trash Wheel has done an excellent job keeping the harbor relatively litter-free, trash is just one part of the problem.

Spreading Awareness & Dispelling Doubt

Some individuals express doubts about how realistic the goal of Healthy Harbor truly is; some locals vow to never set foot in the harbor water, while others believe that the goal can be met. As a result, there are various events happening in Baltimore year-round that are meant to bring more awareness to this initiative and to the importance of preserving the health of the waterways on which the community depends. One such event is the Baltimore Floatilla for a Healthy Harbor, an event where thousands of kayakers, canoers, and small-water craft operators gather for a five-mile paddle in Baltimore's Inner harbor. This year’s floatilla is the second annual and will take place on Saturday June, 10. Registration is still open, although organizers ask that you be experienced and provide your own watercraft. The floatilla, while a fun day on the water, has an explicit political goal: to get the city of Baltimore to do its part in improving the health of the harbor. Photos from last year’s floatilla show paddlers in on the water holding signs that say “Fix the Pipes” and “E. Coli is not a Tourist Attraction!” [caption id="attachment_1294" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Baltimore Harbor, Healthy Harbor "Fix the Pipes!" Paddlers address Baltimore City Government, a plead for them to do their part in helping the harbor.[/caption] Regardless of whether or not we will be able to go swimming in the harbor in a few years, everyone benefits from improving the health of the harbor. After all, the harbor empties into Chesapeake bay which provides thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue each year. Have you visited Baltimore’s Inner Harbor? Do you think Healthy Harbor can reach its goal of making the water swimmable and fishable by 2020? If so, would you go swimming or fishing there? Let us know in the comments below!

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