Baltimore City’s annual “Harbor Heartbeat” report is out, and it’s full of optimism.
2020 was to be a milestone year for the Waterfront Partership of Baltimore’s Healthy Harbor Initiative (HHI). The effort, launched in 2010, proclaimed a goal of becoming “swimmable and fishable by 2020.” While it is technically now safe to swim in the Baltimore Harbor most of the time in dry weather, it’s still not recommended to swim or wade in it due to factors like sediment, stormwater runoff, and boat traffic.
Despite the missed milestone, Waterfront Partnership, Blue Water Baltimore, the city’s Department of Public Works, and Clearwater Mills, LLC, creator of the city’s trash wheels, are still celebrating significant gains in water quality over the last decade.
The 2020 Harbor Heartbeat finds 81 percent of the 36 water monitoring stations in the city’s harbor and streams have steadily shown bacteria improvement as projects to fix the sewer and stormwater pipes progress.
Another notable improvement is the amount of trash and litter making it into our waterways from throughout Baltimore City—thanks to the “family” of trash wheels positioned at key outfalls, the city’s program to provide a trash can for every home, expanded street sweeping, and a community cleaup effort called BMORE Beautiful.
So the city is now setting a new ten-year goal. The 2030 vision includes six potential new projects, including the proposed Baltimore Harbor Swim Spot, a floating, modular enclosed area that allows people to swim in Harbor water. Modeled after public swim sites in Denmark, Paris, and Copenhagen, the swim area would be movable to different parts of the harbor. It would include a kayak launch and rentals, concessions, and floating wetlands.
Waterfront Partnership is working with state and city leaders on the swim site, as well as swim events going forward. The partnership will organize a Baltimore Harbor swim event once major sewer repairs are complete (and the COVID-19 pandemic allows). Waterfront Partnership board member Mike Hankin still stands by his personal pledge to swim in the harbor.
The Harbor Heartbeat report also lays out 10 priorities for the Baltimore region over the next decade to get closer to that swimmable goal. They range from improving recreational access and cracking down on pet waste to swapping out impervious surfaces for rain gardens or green roofs.
“There is still work to be done to make it the truly accessible and recreational asset that we envision for the City of Baltimore,” Lindquist concludes.
-Meg Walburn Viviano