Posts Tagged 'healthy harbor'

A Blue View: The Pollution We Cannot See

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

March 13, 2013: The Pollution We Cannot See – Toxins in the Water

A Blue View podcast

Listen to John and Blue Water Baltimore’s, Halle Van der Gaag,
discuss how wastewater is polluting the Bay. 

When it comes to cleaning up the Baltimore Harbor, most of us think about trash cleanups. While keeping garbage out of our waterways is critically important, there’s another source of pollution infecting the Bay—bacteria from wastewater. Recently, Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, sat with Aquarium CEO John Racanelli to talk about these toxins in our waters, and what needs to be done about them:

John: Tell me about what’s going on right now in our harbor in terms of bacteria and bacteria counts.

Halle: Well, unfortunately there’s way too much bacteria in the Baltimore harbors and our streams that feed the harbor. Though Baltimore has a separate sewer system, unfortunately we see huge amounts of wastewater entering our streams, not just from broken wastewater pipes but unfortunately through the storm drain system, where it’s not supposed to be coming from.

John: And that, I would guess, leads to higher bacterial counts, because these things kind of compound.

Halle: Absolutely. It’s unfortunate, but we have an aging system, on both the storm water and the wastewater side. So pipes are breaking. Raw sewage entering our streams contributes to bacteria, and everyone knows raw sewage in our waterways is not a good thing.

John: Absolutely. Where is this wastewater coming from?

Halle: It’s coming from our homes, our businesses, the places where we work. If you think about it, all our businesses are connected to the wastewater system, and it’s intended to go to the wastewater treatment site, but all along the way, there are opportunities for cracks and breaks and leaks, and that’s where we see the problems occur.

John: So it’s not really about the trash in this case, it’s about the waste stream.

Halle: And if you think about a fishable, swimmable harbor, it’s probably not the trash that’s going to keep you out of there, it’s going to be the bacteria.

John: What are the consequences of this dirty water in terms of how it affects humans and others?

Halle: We tend not to think about the harbor as a place where people recreate, but actually folks are out there in kayaks, paddleboats, on sailboats, and boating. Unfortunately, there are real significant public health risks if exposed. Skin infections, gastrointestinal issues, and even things like our pets getting sick when they run through the streams like the Jones Falls and the Gwynns Falls. So there are significant opportunities for folks to get sick and we are hearing more and more about those types of infections happening here in Baltimore.

John: I guess this must have an economic impact on our community too, eventually.

Halle: Absolutely. Who wants to sit at a restaurant along the Inner Harbor where there’s been a fish kill and where it’s very smelly and dirty? We’ve heard from restaurants last year during the June sewage overflow of how damaging it was to their bottom line.

John: So what’s being done out there right now to combat this overall issue of wastewater pollution?

Halle: Baltimore City is spending millions of dollars through something called the Consent Decree to actually upgrade and fix wastewater pipes and the streams. We hope in the next couple of years, we’ll see significant construction happening, and that should lead to a reduction in wastewater debris in the harbor.

John: Well then let me ask, what is the message we need to get out to really bring action on this critical issue?

Halle: So I think sometimes people can be frustrated about paying into fees to upgrade these systems, but in this case, there’s really nothing citizens can do. This is about city government doing what it needs to do to repair critical wastewater infrastructure, and it’s nobody’s fault the pipes are a hundred years old. We have pipes from the 1800s that are still functional. And so we just need to get behind the city and support these upgrades.

John: Okay, well thank you, Halle, very much for coming to talk about this important issue.

About Blue Water Baltimore
Blue Water Baltimore’s mission is to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and harbor. From organizing trash cleanups and planting trees to monitoring streams and advocating for stronger clean water laws, Blue Water Baltimore is hard at work in communities around the state. Learn more at bluewaterbaltimore.org.

The Health Harbor Report Card
The recently released Healthy Harbor Report Card 2012 contains Blue Water Baltimore’s annual assessment for the Baltimore Harbor. This year the Harbor received an overall grade of C-. The Harbor’s grade, which is based upon 2012 monitoring data collected by the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, was higher than expected. Still, the Harbor met ecological health thresholds only 40 percent of the time, which is just barely a C-.

To view the complete Healthy Harbor Report Card, click here.

To see the Baltimore Harbor’s bacteria monitoring results for yourself, click here.

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Baltimore is Focused on Clean Water

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Water, and more specifically Clean Water is a major area of focus in Baltimore this week. Rightly so. We all understand that we rely on access to clean water for not only life itself, but our quality of life as well. The water that we drink and that makes up the natural systems that surround us is intricately linked to our health and well-being. It is this undeniable fact that is the focus of many events happening in our great city in these next few days.

The week started off with the unveiling of Baltimore’s Annual Healthy Harbor Report Card. The “report card” is an annual milestone report focused on the ultimate goal of making the harbor Fishable and Swimmable by 2020. The Baltimore Harbor was given a grade of C- in 2012, with most water quality indicators (dissolved oxygen, water clarity, nutrient levels, etc.) squarely in the C-D range. According to the monitoring data, the Baltimore Harbor only met water quality standards 40 percent of the time. Despite the less-than-stellar grades, we must realize that natural systems take time to “bounce back.” We cannot reverse centuries of abuse in the course of a couple of years. We are in this for the long-term after all and if we pay attention and continue to work together and take responsibility for our role in clean water, we will see our efforts pay off.

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Mayor of Baltimore Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the Healthy Harbor report card press conference. Photo via Blue Water Baltimore.

Mid-week, the Choose Clean Water Coalition Annual Conference will also begin right here in Baltimore. The focus of the coalition is to serve as a strong, united, effective advocate for restoring the thousands of streams and rivers flowing to the Chesapeake Bay by coordinating policy, message action and accountability for clean water at the federal, state and local levels. The National Aquarium has been a member of the coalition almost since its inception and we are excited to help host this year! More than 275 representatives from organizations and governments from all over the Chesapeake Bay watershed will learn from some of the innovative initiatives developed in our city and elsewhere. It is an important chance to share common strategies and priorities so that we can build upon the work of each other to more effectively face our challenges and ultimately help improve our local streams, rivers and the Bay.

Finally, Baltimore City, like many other jurisdictions in Maryland is considering the establishment of a stormwater utility or Water Pollution Reduction Fee. The utility will be the major topic of discussion at the June 11th City Council meeting. The purpose of the utility will be to create a sustainable model that will allow our city to finance the repair and replacement of aging stormwater pipe systems currently in place and to implement innovative and effective stormwater reduction strategies that will clean our polluted stormwater runoff before it gets to the local streams. Now is not the time to debate the need for such a utility, legally the city is required to do this or face large fines; now is the time to let our city council know that we care about clean water and healthy communities.

Again, we all understand that we rely on access to clean water for not only life itself, but our quality of life as well. The water that we drink and that makes up the natural systems that surround us is intricately linked to our health and well-being.

The activity here in Baltimore this week reaffirms the critical concept that we have the power to CHOOSE clean water. We have the power to make individual choices that improve water quality (choices centered around your home, your work, your commute). We have the power to take collective actions to ensure healthy water supplies (volunteer in community cleanup and restoration efforts, use your purchasing power to stand up for clean water, etc.). We have the power to support our local governments in their efforts to provide communities access to clean water. – or we have the power to do nothing. Which are you going to choose?

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Thoughtful Thursdays: Creating a Healthy Harbor

Last Friday, the National Aquarium joined its partners from the Waterfront Partnership Baltimore, Biohabitats, Living Classrooms Foundation, Blue Water Baltimore, and Irvine Nature Center to launch another 2,000 square feet of floating wetlands into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Volunteers busily install native plants in the manmade wetlands

The first set of islands was installed in August 2010 as part of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, a campaign designed to create a swimmable, fishable harbor by 2020. Since then, we’ve been working with the University of Maryland Extension – Sea Grant to monitor the ecological services of the island by looking at nutrient uptake by the plants and colonization by aquatic organisms.

We’ve been able to show that the plants growing on the original wetlands were successful in removing excess nutrients from the water – one of the major problems here in the Chesapeake Bay. With the additional floating wetlands, we’ll be able to monitor their benefits more accurately and further improve water quality in our city.

This is one of the many initiatives the National Aquarium, Baltimore, is working on to improve water quality (and quality of life) in our city. We have also hooked up a 40,000-gallon cistern (giant rain barrel), installed a green roof on our newest building, and use native plants in our Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Waterfront Park.

Towing the wetland islands into the harbor

Join us: by installing a rain barrel or native plants at your home, you can help clean the water before it flows downstream. Get more tips on what you can do here. Together, we can make a fishable, swimmable harbor!

Wetlands installed in their new home


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