Trash is a visible reminder of the harm polluted runoff can do to our waterways. When it rains, water carries trash and other pollution off streets and into storm drains. Often, this polluted runoff flows unfiltered into neighborhood streams and the Chesapeake Bay. Fed by a vast network of streams, Baltimore's Jones Falls funnels water—and pollution—into the City's Inner Harbor.
Smart collaboration has delivered an innovative solution. Just beyond Pierce's Park in downtown Baltimore, floating in the Jones Falls between Pier VI and the Marriott, a shiny, arched, solar-powered robot silently and efficiently collects trash from the stream. The wheel quietly sweeps bottles, tires, and tree limbs into a huge trash bin for collection.
The water wheel is the brain child of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore's Healthy Harbor Initiative, an alliance of Baltimore businesses dedicating time and resources to its goal of a fishable, swimmable harbor by 2020. This fascinating aluminum arthropod was conceived by local inventor John Kellett and funded by Constellation Energy and the Maryland Port Administration. The city is paying the maintenance costs.
"The fact that an Internet video of the water wheel operating has gone viral—receiving [more than] one million views—is proof that people care," said Michael Hankin, Chairman of the Waterfront Partnership Board of Directors and CEO of Brown Advisory. "What the water wheel is doing to clean up the trash and debris from the Inner Harbor is powerful."
But can a water wheel save the harbor? Certainly not by itself and that's the point: One wheel, no matter how innovative and efficient, can't possibly produce a swimmable harbor by 2020. That's why CBF is working in partnership with the Waterfront Partnership, the National Aquarium, Blue Water Baltimore, the city, and others to help reduce polluted runoff in Baltimore. Together, we can achieve the state and federal mandates required under the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint.
The state recently issued a permit that requires the city to reduce polluted runoff from 20 percent of the city by the end of 2018. But the city controls just five percent of hard urban surfaces (streets, playgrounds, rooftops). The partner groups can help coordinate and energize businesses, the faith community, civic groups, not-for-profits, and others, to accelerate existing programs to reduce contaminated runoff.
The water wheel and Pierce's Park (another Waterfront Partnership polluted runoff-reduction project) are prime examples of how to reduce pollution in the city. Much more needs to be done to achieve the water-quality goals, such as removing pavement where possible, creating pocket parks, and planting green roofs and urban gardens. These improvements not only slow down polluted runoff, but they will create cleaner, healthier places to live. They will also provide jobs for city residents and help sustain local businesses. Community volunteers caring for gardens and parks, removing litter, and cleaning alleyways generate pride and a renewed sense of ownership.
Hankin has vowed to be the first to jump into the harbor in 2020 and he has challenged CBF President Will Baker to join him. Yet if his vision is to succeed, it will take the work of many hands, many hours, and many projects. The puzzle pieces are there to produce the kinds of results we can see with every revolution of the water wheel.
—Terry Cummings, CBF's Director of the Baltimore Initiative