Smith: Harbor Water Quality Is As Bad As You Think

Jul 4, 2013

Credit Tom Chalkley

A report released last month by the Waterfront Partnership gave Baltimore's harbor a grade of C-minus. Not good, but better than many in the city may have expected. 

The harbor is one of Baltimore’s most visible assets. A renaissance city grew up around the water 25 or 30 years ago. Shiny new buildings replaced rotting piers. And water-side attractions became our city’s signature. 

But the water itself – the magnet – remains an unreconstructed disaster. Photographs of the water’s surface make all sorts of scummy detritus visible to the naked eye. Imagine what's below the surface.

An organization called Blue Water Baltimore wants to make the harbor swimmable and fishable by the year 2020. Good luck on that. It's a worthy goal, to be sure, but there are so many negative forces at work that real progress will be a real challenge.

Last week, almost 22,000 gallons of raw effluent -- sewage, etc -- made its way into the harbor. This sort of event will likely continue until the city's effort to replace and modernize its piping gains something of a foothold. We have an aging infrastructure which no doubt contributes to the harbor problem.

Still, our C-minus water quality grade this year was better than it might have been – though no real credit us. Less rain meant less polluting runoff.

What we need is an equivalent of the old community barn-raising: People working together to help their community. Check out Blue Water Baltimore’s website for info on clean up ideas and volunteering. It could improve your outlook on life. When was the last time you saw blue water?

Your comments are welcome at fsmith@wypr.org