A Year in Review: 2021 Water Wins 

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It’s been a whirlwind of a year on all fronts, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve navigated through many challenges, welcomed new staff members to our BWB family, and we’re working every day to hold polluters accountable. So, what has your Baltimore Waterkeeper team been up to?

 

Growing our Team of Water Protectors 

Our team is expanding! Over the course of 2021 We have added two new staff members to our Waterkeeper team.  

 

Cody Matteson comes to us with experience in all kinds of environmental work as our new Senior Coordinator of the Water Quality Program.

 

After completing her MPA in Sustainable Infrastructures & Public Policy, Taylor Smith-Hams returned to Blue Water Baltimore as our new Senior Manager of Advocacy & Outreach. 

 

Keeping an eye on Baltimore’s waterways 

Our staff continue to keep our eyes on the water, but we still need you, our supporters, to keep our waterways clean! Anyone can learn how to become a water protector. 

 

How many people reported pollution in Baltimore this year? 

The Waterkeeper team received 95 pollution reports this year! Here’s a little recap of how people like you helped us protect the waterways we love this year:

  • 46 illicit discharges were reported. These are pollution with no specific origin point. Most come from a storm drain system but also includes dumping from stream banks
  • 15 sanitary sewer overflows (think toilets, sinks, etc.), sewer discharges with unknown origin, or manholes overflowing with sewage were reported
  • 11 reports were trash related including illegally dumped piles of trash
  • 10 were watermain breaks (think water that comes out of your faucet)
  • 9 were sediment violations, which typically originate from construction sites
  • 3 were fish kills. You can learn more about one of them here! 
  • 1 was a miscellaneous report (these kinds of reports relate to infrastructure… like a sewer stack manhole lid that’s missing or a clogged storm drain)

 

So…what do we do with your reports? 

When reports come in, we follow up with community members to make sure we have all the information we need to decide what our next investigative steps should be. We triage the reports by fielding the information to the proper municipality (local, state, or federal) depending on the issue and severity of the complaint. All reports are then entered and cataloged into our Pollution Reporting database.  

Our pollution reporting system would not be successful without our community members acting as an extra set of eyes on our waterways. We could not do this work without you! If you are interested in learning about the different kinds of pollutants entering our waterways, how they are getting there, and who to report it to, look for our “How’s the Water Hon” information sessions offered in 2022! 

 

Supporting Residents Affected by Backups 

Here’s one thing we can all agree on: sewage overflows suck! We’ve been keeping up with Baltimore City’s progress in reducing overflows for years. In 2021 we scored a big win for our watershed and the people who live in it! Your Waterkeeper team successfully lobbied Baltimore City to supply direct cleanup assistance to residents who experience sewage backups in their homes.  

By joining forces with Clean Water Action and the Environmental Integrity Project, we pushed Baltimore City to launch a new Sewage Onsite Support (SOS) Cleanup Program in March 2021. This program is an important part of the long-term solution to sewage overflows and backups. Reimbursement, direct assistance, prevention education, community outreach, and investment in green and gray infrastructure are all vital to making our vision for clean water a reality in Baltimore. The city still has a long way to go. Sewage overflows continue to pose a threat to public health in Baltimore, and are a financial burden for affected residents. Be sure to sign up for BWB’s action alerts and Newsletter to stay up-to-date on this critical issue in the new year.    

Raw sewage mixed with storm water surges out of a damaged sewer manhole next to the Herring Run stream.

 

Reducing the plastic bags that wind up in our streams

On October 1st, Baltimore City’s plastic bag ban finally went into effect over a year and a half after being signed into law. The law bans the distribution of plastic bags during checkout and imposes a five-cent fee for paper bags. BWB supported this bill because it’s an upstream solution to trash pollution — if we’re going to clean up our waterways, we need to prevent single-use items like plastic bags from entering them in the first place. However, this law isn’t perfect. Earlier versions of the bag ban bill exempted SNAP and WIC users from the five-cent fee; this would’ve taken the financial burden off those least able to afford it. Unfortunately, city councilmembers removed the fee exemption. As state legislators consider following Baltimore City and other jurisdictions’ leads by instituting a statewide ban on plastic bags, environmental protection and equity must go hand-in-hand. 

A plastic bag retrieved by Blue Water Baltimore volunteers at a trash cleanup on the shores of the Patapsco River. Photo by: Lauren Paulet

 

Sampling, more sampling, and continued sampling 

In addition to our current monitoring program, your Waterkeeper team will be expanding our reach to the Back River, including the Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant. We are currently ironing out the details but hope to include our supporters as community scientists. The idea is to help teach our supporters how to collect samples, and bring them to us to analyze. So, stay tuned!!! 

Your Waterkeeper team collected over 1,000 samples from the Gwynns Falls, Jones Falls, and Patapsco River systems in 2021! These include samples we collect using our boat the Muckraker done weekly during the field season. As well as hiking to sites along the Gwynns Falls and Jones Falls all year round. So, if you see us, give us a shout!! 

-Your Friendly Neighborhood Waterkeeper Team