Community involvement, one step in Harbor cleanup

Most people who walk by the green-grey water of the Inner Harbor would say it is a surprise the waters are even habitable for fish, which makes Adam Lindquist and the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore’s vision of a swimmable and fishable Harbor by 2020 seem like an impossible goal.

At the GBC’s Energy & Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 6, Lindquist, Healthy Harbor coordinator for Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, outlined the nonprofit organization’s plan to tackle infrastructure issues and educate city residents on their role in the solution.

Issues in the Bay result almost exclusively from trash, stormwater runoff and sewage, Lindquist said. While they will take an estimated $212 million to fix and millions more in maintenance, educating communities to their potential efforts will be an important part of cleaning up the Harbor at the grassroots level.

In a forest, there is no stormwater runoff because the forest floor absorbs much of the water. But in a city of “impervious surfaces” water runs through the streets and across city lawns, picking up atmospheric deposits, fertilizers and pesticides, abandoned pet waste, litter and debris, and oil and rubber left behind on the streets by cars — all on the way into our Harbor, Lindquist explained.

Teaching communities and individual property owners how to reduce pollution in the “stormwater footprint” would go a long way in reducing trash and waste that ends up in the Harbor.

Installing rain gardens, disposing of pet waste, recycling, reducing fertilizer and substituting chemically-based lawn care products for more natural fertilizers are all things the Healthy Harbor Plan recommends to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff.

But the solution doesn’t rest solely in the hands of the community. Issues, especially concerning sewage, can be attributed to infrastructure issues.

Baltimore currently uses a three-pipe system of water, sewer and storm drain pipes that, in theory, operate independently. However, Baltimore’s deteriorating pipes prompt more problems.

Funding is a constant challenge, and Maryland is under an EPA mandate to fix sewage problems by 2016 in the city and 2019 in the county, reducing sewage-related bacteria in the water as part of its “pollution diet.” Waterfront Partnership recommends long-term solutions to not only meet federal requirements, but also give the city the ability to fix sewage leaks quickly and more efficiently in the future.

A stormwater utility fee and a flush fee have been suggested as possible revenue sources to increase funding for the Harbor cleanup, but nothing has officially been put on the table. Implementing remedial actions and encouraging communities to take personal responsibility is the way to go at present, which, according to the Waterfront Partnership, could go a long way in turning the Harbor’s green-grey water blue.

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