Blue Water Baltimore (BWB) is a non-profit organization established in 2010 from five watershed associations which joined together. BWB is dedicated to ensuring that Baltimore’s waterways are healthy, safe, and clean. They accomplish this through monitoring water quality, planting trees, education, and advocacy. They began monitoring water quality in 2010, which occurs at 49 stations for streams and rivers flowing into the Patapsco River. At these sites, BWB monitors the following indicators: bacteria, chlorophyll, specific conductance, turbidity, pH, Secchi depth (indicating water clarity), Total Phosphate, Total Nitrogen, phycoerythrin, salinity, Dissolved Oxygen, and temperature. Once this in-depth information is recorded and analyzed in an in-house lab, it is available for the general public to view here on their interactive map. Many of the indicators BWB monitors are Tier 3 level data in the CMC which contribute to the Chesapeake Bay Program datasets.
Blue Water Baltimore conducts routine sampling for enterococcus bacteria (fecal indicator bacteria), and they have occasionally found spikes in bacteria due to heavy rains. During a routine 2021 sampling, however, consistently high readings (exceeding the plant limits of 35 MPN/100mL monthly geometric mean) were found at an effluent pipe (upriver of the Key Bridge) of the Patapsco River Wastewater Treatment Plant which were not attributed to heavy rainfall. This discovery was passed on to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), which led to an in-depth investigation for the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant. The inspector found violations with both operation and maintenance deficiencies, including equipment malfunction, out-of-order equipment, shortages in staffing, and botched sampling of toxic wastewater contaminants. In December 2021, Blue Water Baltimore filed a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against Baltimore City. They used Discharge Monitoring Reports (DMRs) from January 2017 through September 2021 to demonstrate that permit limits were violated at both the Patapsco and Back River Wastewater Treatment Plants, and the plant failed to comply with testing and reporting of PCBs, requirements for toxic chemical testing, an updated wastewater capacity management plan, requirements for mitigation of FOGs (fats, oils, and grease), requirements for monitoring and reporting, facility operations staff, requirements for minimization of environmental impacts, and requirements for effluent limits. MDE then filed a lawsuit in January 2022 requesting a state enforcement action. This lawsuit was based on violation of state and federal water pollution statutes, civil penalties, and unauthorized discharge of pollutants at both wastewater treatment plants. In March 2022, MDE requested that the Maryland Environmental Service (MES) take a supervisory role at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.
These actions have led to the Back River Restoration Committee contacting Blue Water Baltimore to find out ways the residents of that area can help. A community science pilot program was created, and so far, two events to collect data on enterococci bacteria levels have been held. During the first event on May 26, 25 samples were tested, seven of which failed the requirements for the code of Maryland regulations. Results from these tests use statistical methods for the most probable number (MPN) of enterococci in 100 mL of water. Recreating in waterways with enterococcus bacteria levels above 130 MPN/100 mL carries a higher risk of getting sick from waterborne pathogens. The second event on September 2, 43 samples which were tested showed that 34 of the sites failed these requirements. These samples, however, provide a snapshot of water quality, and as you can see from the maps, the locations of the sample sites vary.
Based on continuous testing by Blue Water Baltimore over the past few months, however, the bacteria and pollution levels are improving near both wastewater treatment plants, and they are trending in the right direction. As of October 12, a ruling by the judge in the BWB federal case ordered Baltimore City to submit status updates monthly to the court demonstrating that continual progress is being made towards lower bacteria levels and decreased levels of pollution at both sites.
Blue Water Baltimore continues to engage and increase citizen involvement with water collection events to detect bacteria levels. In addition, they are working towards a legally-binding agreement for wastewater treatment plants to become compliant.
Taylor Run is a stream located in Alexandria, Virginia that flows into the Potomac River. In 2019, the City of Alexandria determined that stream restorations of three local streams (Lucky Run, Strawberry Run, and Taylor Run) should be conducted in order to earn nutrient reduction credits through the Chesapeake Bay Program in order to meet the TMDL 40% plan. The City applied for a grant through the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, and calculated their nutrient reduction credits using the CBP Expert Panel Removal Rates. However, those removal rates are based on soil samples which were collected from eleven streams in Pennsylvania and not samples specific to Alexandria. The differences in topography, environment, soil, and land use of these samples prompted a response from the community, the city advisory board, and the Environmental Policy Commission (EPC) for the necessity of a local study. The City Council made the decision to pause the restoration on Taylor Run and Strawberry Run until further studies had been completed.
Taylor’s Run was chosen as one of the stream restoration sites due to severe erosion in some areas and evidence of downcutting and widening in other areas, however, evidence of poor local water quality was not determined. The proposed stream restoration project included excavating an area 1900 ft x 75 ft, cutting down over 250 trees, and raising the stream bed 3-7 ft, and according to experts, would destroy existing plant and animal communities and threaten 25 rare species in the wetland area. The North Ridge Citizens’ Association (NRCA) received a $5,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to conduct a stream study for Taylor Run analyzing nutrients (TN, TP, TSS) and sediment flows in order to determine the water quality impact from Taylor Run into the Potomac River and the Bay. These data were coupled with support from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s RiverTrends, which provided the monitoring equipment, analysis, and training for additional stream indicators. Several of these indicators contribute to the CMC and are Tier 2 level data.
The study undertaken by the NRCA consisted of water quality measurements and samples taken at the upstream and downstream sites of the 1900 ft. stream twice a month between March and October 2021. According to Bill Gillespie, the monitoring team took the measurements a step further. “You can have a load of nitrogen or phosphorus in the stream banks, but if it never (or only rarely) gets in the water, you won’t get the nutrient reduction credits based on stream bank sampling and erosion estimates.” The samples were taken at both high and low water and consisted of the following measurements: air and water temperature, pH, conductivity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen, and lab grab samples. The grab samples were then taken to a certified lab to determine Total Nitrogen (TN), Total Phosphorus (TP), and Total Suspended Sediment (TSS) measurements, which were found to be 20-30% of the levels of the Pennsylvania stream data. The NRCA presented their data to the City Council. In addition to the graphs of the measurements taken for TN, TP, and TSS during their study, recommendations for alternatives for nutrient reduction credits for the city were presented. By restoring Lucky Run and through RiverRenew Nutrient Reduction Credits and tree planting projects, Alexandria can more than satisfy their nutrient credits. As for next steps, the community, EPC, and the City Council are currently in mediation to develop plans for Taylor Run and Strawberry Run. Best management practices such as stormwater retention ponds, bioswales, and rain gardens as well as implementing erosion control measures in Chinquapin Park (upstream from Taylor Run) would reduce stormwater volume and velocity, as well as improve water quality in Taylor Run.