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UB uses Science to Improve Baltimore Streams & Harbor

February 20, 2015
  • University of Baltimore
UB professors conduct EPA funded research to improve the Chesapeake Bay.

By Jeff La Noue, Sustainability Program Specialist and Facilities Management & Capital Planning, University of Baltimore

Before you can fix a problem, you have to diagnose it.  That is exactly what University of Baltimore Environmental Sustainability and Human Ecology assistant professors Wolf T. Pecher and Stanley J. Kemp are doing.  In collaboration with Blue Water Baltimore’s Lisa DeGuire and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science the team will monitor pollution entering the Jones Falls stream near Penn Station and the University of Baltimore campus about two miles due north of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. 

If Marylanders want a healthy clean Chesapeake Bay, they need to address not only toxins going directly into the Chesapeake, but pollution washing off our land into the network of streams that flow into the bay, as well.

The research, funded through an Environmental Protection Agency grant, seeks local resident stakeholder input as well educational outreach programs for local public high school students.  The students will be stream-side testing the water quality and investigating fish and invertebrates in the river.

Testing will take place in an interesting section of the Lower Jones Falls referred to as the Mill Corridor, named for the collection of quaint historic industrial mill buildings lining the river.  The stream runs through a beautiful wooded valley popular with runners and bicyclists with the dense city sitting atop the ridges.  Unfortunately for the stream, the city’s pollution follows gravity downhill though a vast network of pipes few spend much time thinking about.  These pipes carry human sewage as well as storm water runoff that leaves our streets through the storm grates we see on every block. Where the system works well, these pipes deliver the contaminants to places of treatment. Baltimore’s system is old. Many pipes leak and storm water is sent directly to the stream and onward to the Inner Harbor.

The Jones Falls is surprisingly resilient.  Dozens of species of fish, plant, and other wildlife including turtles the size of trash can lids make the stream home.  Majestic birds such as the Blue and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are regularly sighted.  All is not happy though; visits to the stream, particularly after rain storms, often reveal discolored water gushing from pipes, odorous smells, litter, plastic bags, and toilet paper.

run off waterContaminated run-off flowing into the Jones Falls: photograph by author

Dr. Pecher, Dr. Kemp, and their team are gathering data to reveal how much of each type of pollution is entering the stream and where it is originating.  The researchers expect it to be some combination of human sewage, pet waste and variety of toxins that wash off our streets.  This data will provide the basis for a targeted and scientific mitigation plan.  The problem is solvable.

This work is not only important for the Jones Falls, but for Baltimore’s economy.  The Jones Falls empties its waters and contaminants into Baltimore’s harbor between the Pier Six Pavilion and Inner Harbor East, a major center of jobs, residents, and tourism.  While tourists and residents of big cities like Chicago swim at downtown beaches, Baltimore isn’t there, yet.  The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore announced its goal of a swimmable and fishable harbor by 2020.  Dr. Pecher, Dr. Kemp, and continued funding will help get us there.  One can’t help but think when Baltimoreans and visitors can truly play in our waters, what a draw it will be for Baltimore.

Blue Heron
Blue Heron in the Jones Falls: photograph by author

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