In 2010, the Waterfront Partnership launched the Healthy Harbor Initiative, an education campaign to draw attention to the poor water quality of Baltimore’s harbor and to create a blueprint for action with the ambitious goal of making the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020. The Baltimore harbor is heavily impacted by polluted stormwater runoff, sewage overflows, and trash that impair water quality, threaten human health, and impede growth of fish and marine organisms. To fully understand the water-quality conditions of the harbor and keep track of progress toward the 2020 goal, the Waterfront Partnership teamed with Blue Water Baltimore to create the “Healthy Harbor Report Card,” an annual analysis and scoring of water quality. In 2013 and 2014, the water quality sampling data by Blue Water Baltimore led to failing grades for the Baltimore harbor and the tidal Patapsco River.
Waterfront Partnership’s first project to test water-quality improvement strategies and engage the public in understanding potential solutions to address pollution impacts is the installation of 2,000 square feet of floating wetlands in the Inner Harbor located near the World Trade Center. Biohabitats, a Baltimore-based consulting firm that specializes in conservation planning and ecological restoration, designed the prototype for the project. Funded in part with a grant from The Abell Foundation, students and volunteers from the Living Classrooms Foundation constructed the wetlands from empty soda bottles retrieved from the harbor, along with other recycled materials. An evaluation of the floating wetlands by the National Aquarium of Baltimore found they are capable of supporting the growth of native plants, as well as aquatic organisms. The Aquarium concluded that floating wetlands can be expected to provide many of the same ecosystem benefits as natural wetlands, and in some cases, a floating wetland may actually be more efficient in providing additional services per square foot than a natural wetland.
To address the water-quality issues of trash impairment in the harbor, Waterfront Partnership partnered with Clearwater Mills, LLC to install a high-capacity trash interceptor at the entry of the Jones Falls into the harbor, where 70 percent of all trash in the harbor is estimated to originate. The trash interceptor is designed as a floating water wheel powered by water and solar energy that captures and lifts trash and debris onto an attractive, canopied 44-foot-long conveyer belt and into floating dumpsters. The system has a projected capacity to remove between 750,000 and 1 million pounds of trash and debris annually. The cost of the construction and installation was fully funded by the Maryland Port Administration and Waterfront Partnership and grant funding from the Abell Foundation pays the costs of the boat that removes and disposes of the trash collected. A video produced by Waterfront Partnership showing the Water Wheel in operation shortly after its installation in 2014 became an instant YouTube sensation with over 1 million viewings, generating significant national media attention.