David Flores, water quality manager for Blue Water Baltimore's Waterkeeper program, gets ready to head out to take some more water samples. - Photo by Danielle Sweeney
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Baltimore Harbor’s Healthy Harbor Report Card grade of C- might sound surprisingly decent, but the Waterfront Partnership’s Adam Lindquist says that the higher-than-expected score can be mostly attributed to 2012’s low rainfall.
“In 2012, we had about 34 inches,” said Linquist. “Forty-two inches is normal.”
That 29-percent reduction in rainfall means there was less runoff in 2012 to wash pollutants into the water, he explained.
Healthy Harbor Baltimore, which is a division of the Waterfront Partnership, put out the Healthy Harbor Report Card last week. 2012, Lindquist said, was the first year that the organization had enough data to assign a grade to the harbor. The grade of C- indicates that the Harbor has met water quality standards 40 percent of the time.
“The C- is actually the ecosystem grade,” Lindquist said, adding that the same system—which analyzes the water’s suitability for marine life—is used to grade the Chesapeake Bay as a whole.
Water quality indicators such as chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, total nitrogen and total phosphorus factor into the Healthy Harbor Report Card grade. A chlorophyll measurement can tell researches if there is too much algae, which may eat up the dissolved oxygen in the water, leaving little left for the plants and animals that depend on it.
Water clarity allows sunlight to reach plants, and it allows fish and animals to see their prey. Nitrogen and phosphorus measurements indicate the degree to which stormwater has washed pollutants into the water.
Lindquist noted that the Healthy Harbor Report Card grade does not take bacteria levels into account, which, he said, are “very localized and disperse very quickly when they go into the water.” Though not part of the grade itself, bacteria levels are recorded in the Healthy Harbor Report Card document, which is available for download at www.healthyharborbaltimore.org. While overall Balitmore Harbor overall failed to meet the swimming standard for bacteria at least 60 percent of the time, the water near the eastern tip of Fort McHenry met the standard 100 percent of times tested. Canton Harbor, according to the Report Card, met the standard between 80 and 90 percent of the times it was tested.
A portion of the Canton waterfront, roughly from Captain James Restaurant to Safeway, also met the standard 80 to 90 percent of the time. Lindquist noted that the Linwood outfall—roughly where S. Linwood Ave. would meet the water—has the highest bacteria output in Baltimore Harbor.
Lindquist said that bacteria comes from sewage, sewage spills and leaks, and pet waste.
“Up to a quarter of it comes from pet waste,” he said.
The Healthy Harbor Report Card is a joint venture between Healthy Harbor Baltimore and Blue Water Baltimore, which goes out and samples the water. According to Blue Water Baltimore’s website, a grant from the Abell Foundation has allowed the organization to extend sampling to 30 sites in the Harbor.
Lindquist said that it is possible for a big city on the water to have a healthy harbor.
“One of the cities we have looked to is Boston,” he said. “They really buckled down and set an 18-year goal. Now they have annual swim meets in the harbor.”
“It’s not easy, but it can be done,” he said.
Healthy Harbor Baltimore would like to see Baltimore Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020. First District Councilman James Kraft has also endorsed this goal.
by Erik Zygmont