December 22, 2011

Swimmable and Fishable by 2020?

Christine Grillo

Christine Grillo

Contributing Writer

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has been filthy for centuries, and city residents are accustomed to its grim sights and smells: floating islands of trash, fish die-offs, and raw sewage. Can a new coalition of Baltimore business heavy-hitters usher in a new era for the city’s waterway?

The Waterfront Partnership thinks it can. Last week, the coalition, supported by local industry executives such as Bill Struever (Cross Street Partners) and officials from Marriott and Morgan Stanley, unveiled its plan to transform the Harbor. The partnership’s primary goal: “to make the Baltimore Harbor fishable and swimmable by 2020.”

Chaired by Michael Hankin of Brown Advisory, the partnership announced its “Healthy Harbor” plan, which consists of three targets for cleanup: sewage, trash, and stormwater. (Details of the plan can be found here; also, Tim Wheeler of the Baltimore Sun reports on the coalition’s plan in this article.)

Attending the meeting was CLF’s David Love, project director of the Public Health and Sustainable Aquaculture Project at the Center. With a history of addressing the contribution of agricultural practices to environmental degradation in the Chesapeake Bay, the Center hopes to provide the coalition with further insight and recommendations.

Love says, “The three-pronged approach of sewage, trash, and stormwater for a fishable and swimmable harbor can also have positive social and community health impacts,” which, Love notes, is at the root of what addressing ecological health means for urbanites.

By 1849, when Edgar Allen Poe reportedly took his last drink at a tavern along the Harbor, the waters were already a casualty of the Industrial Revolution. As a matter of course, city factories dumped untreated waste—chemicals and sewage—into the Harbor. In 2011, it’s not as polluted as it was years ago, but there is still a long way to go.  This summer, Travel and Leisure magazine ranked Baltimore as the sixth dirtiest city in the country. The Harbor’s smells (“The Reek Goes On”) and sights (“In Bloom”) are a perennial source of reportage.

After three hundred years of damage, will the Harbor be swimmable in eight years’ time?

Love says, “I have seen great results from these types of partnerships in other parts of the Chesapeake Bay.”  He speaks from his experiences on the Oyster Advisory Committee of Lynnhaven River Now, a citizens group founded in 2003 and recognized for restoring recreational and commercial oyster harvesting to a polluted Virginia river.

Love reports that the coalition is modeling its project on the Boston Harbor cleanup that began in 1986. Inspiration for the 1966 song, “Dirty Water” by the Standells, Boston’s Charles River was used by George H.W. Bush in his 1988 presidential campaign to reflect poorly on candidate Michael Dukakis, then governor of Massachusetts. After 14 years and $3.9 billion, Boston Harbor is now referred to by the EPA as a “great American jewel.” Harbor seals and porpoises are common sights in the water.

Let’s hope that the Hankin and his league of waterfront advocates can effect a similar metamorphosis in Baltimore.

Baltimore’s Waterfront Partnership includes among its partners Blue Water Baltimore, Living Classrooms, Parks & People Foundation, Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and more.


  1. We are all hoping that Bill (Screw U Over) Struever will clean up his own messes and pay all of the people he owes, rather than focus on helping clean up Baltimore Harbor. It would be nice to have a clean Baltimore Harbor, but even nicer if Bill would pay all of the people that owes up and down the east coast.
    The only reason Bill is getting involved in this effort, is so he can keep his name in the public eye, again we only wish that he would pay the people the millions of dollars that he owes them.

    How about it Bill, when do you plan to pay us?

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