Storm trashes harbor - literally
Yesterday's downpour did more than flood Fells Point and spill sewage into the Jones Falls. It trashed the Inner Harbor.
The top two pics, taken by the folks at the National Aquarium, show the flotsam and jetsam blown by the storm into the narrow channel between Pier 4 and Pier 5. The water's surface was carpeted with plastic drink bottles and foam cups, a ball or two and lots of leaves, branches and other debris. The bottom pic shows the "trash wheel" set up in Canton to collect debris washing out of a large storm drain there.
It's an object reminder of how littered the harbor is. And it's no longer merely unsightly. Baltimore harbor's water quality has been officially declared by the Environmental Protection Agency to be impaired by trash that's dropped and washed into it from the streams and storm drains that empty into the northwest branch of the Patapsco River.
So in the next few years, the city and Baltimore County will have to work with the Maryland Department of the Environment and EPA to catalogue the amounts and sources of all that trash and come up with a plan for keeeping it out of the water.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Harbor Watershed Association has come up with its own plan for reducing the pollution and trash washing out of East Baltimore into the harbor at Canton - where the trash wheel below catches some but not all of it. You can read the plan here.
It's an ambitious undertaking. The federal government just ordered the District of Columbia, plus Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland to make the Anacostia River in Washington "trash free." That tributary of the Potomac River, like this stretch of the Patapsco, is suffering from a variety of environmental insults - trash being just the most visible.
According to a story this week in The Washington Post, the EPA's trash-free order means getting some 600 tons of litter and debris out of the river annually, on top of the 400 tons a year already being removed. The District and suburban counties now spend millions skimming and collecting trash from the water, and will likely have to spend millions more.
Why are the feds ordering local governments to pick up water-borne litter? Because the Clean Water Act passed in 1972 calls for every water way in the nation to be swimmable and fishable. While that normally means dealing with traditional pollutants like oil, sewage, fertilzer and even dirt, regulators consider trash a visual pollutant that renders water uninviting, if not unsafe, for fishing, wading and swimming.
Though a lot of progress has been made in cleaning up some rivers and lakes, urban waters like Baltimore's and Washington's are more contaminated than most - and, frankly, lagging behind. Ergo, the crackdown.
(Top two photos courtesy the National Aquarium)