2016 Healthy Harbor Report Card


Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore and Blue Water Baltimore announce current conditions and what’s ahead for Baltimore’s streams and Harbor

Download the 2016 Healthy Harbor Report Card Here

(Baltimore, MD) – Today, Waterfront Partnership’s Healthy Harbor Initiative; Blue Water Baltimore; Director of Baltimore City Public Works Rudy Chow, P.E.; Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles; and Maryland State Delegates Brooke Lierman and Robbyn Lewis, unveiled the 2016 Healthy Harbor Report Card.

“2016 was an exciting year for water quality in Baltimore,” said Adam Lindquist, director of the Healthy Harbor Initiative. “We installed a second trash wheel, collected our 1 millionth pound of trash from the water, and hosted the first ever paddling rally in the Inner Harbor, the Floatilla for a Healthy Harbor. People are ready for a truly recreational Harbor, and it’s up to all of us to continue working on these and other important projects until our grades improve.”

The report card, which grades the health of four distinct waterways in Baltimore and the surrounding counties, revealed failing grades for the Baltimore Harbor, tidal portion of the Patapsco River and Jones Falls. The Gwynns Falls received a D-, passing for a second year.

“The 2016 report card is a call to action for anyone and everyone who cares about the environmental health of Baltimore,” said Carl Simon, interim executive director at Blue Water Baltimore.  “It is imperative that we continue this long-term assessment of our waterways while taking urgent action to scale up the investments to Baltimore’s infrastructure.”

According to the report card, most of Baltimore’s water problems are attributed to fecal bacteria, storm-induced pollution problems and low water clarity. The report card stresses the importance of repairing and upgrading the storm drain and sewer system as quickly as possible.

What stands out in the 2016 Report Card?

The biggest change in 2016 was the improvement in fecal bacteria scores in the Baltimore Harbor and Tidal Patapsco River. Despite the millions of gallons of sewage that overflowed from the City’s failing infrastructure, monitoring sites in the Harbor showed fecal bacteria scores improved by an average of 32 points compared to 2015. More data is needed to know if these improvements are part of a larger trend.

“In contrast, bacteria scores for the streams continue to be terrible,” says Lindquist. “Bacteria levels fluctuate greatly depending on rainfall and when we are sampling and, in the Harbor, sewage gets diluted by a large body of water. Our streams aren’t able to dilute pollution as easily and you can see that reflected in the grades.”

Top Five Takeaways

  1. 2016 had less rainfall than 2015 or 2014.

Less rain equates to fewer sewage overflows and less polluted stormwater runoff, which can lead to improved bacteria scores.

  1. Conductivity scores are dragging down our stream grades.

Stormwater runoff carries salts and other pollutants into our streams, raising the conductivity to unsafe levels for fish and other benthic wildlife. Many of our stream-health parameters are in the healthy range, but we’ll continue to see failing grades until conductivity improves.

  1. Nitrogen and phosphorous pollution is an issue.

Nitrogen and phosphorous pollution feed algae blooms in the Harbor, which can ultimately lead to anoxic dead zones and fish kills. High chlorophyll levels are a signal of algae blooms.

  1. We need more information.

We need more years of data to determine if the changes we see are part of a larger trend. It’s tempting to see patterns from year to year, but we are just beginning to build the knowledge base we need to see long-term trends.

  1. Storms are a major contributor to pollution.

Much of Baltimore’s poor water quality is the result of storm-induced pollution problems. Fixing our pipe infrastructure and reducing stormwater runoff should be our top priorities.

Improving Water Quality

To help reach the Healthy Harbor Initiative’s goal of making the Harbor swimmable and fishable, there needs to be a significant increase in improvement efforts and support from the public. Much can be done to improve water quality in Baltimore. Identifying and reporting pollution to local government by calling 311 is important in addressing some of the largest sources of pollution. Pollution can also be reported directly to the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper at www.bluewaterbaltimore.org or by calling 443-908-0696.


The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore’s Healthy Harbor Initiative provides a roadmap for cleaning up Baltimore’s Harbor and the waterways leading to the Harbor. A clean Harbor and clean streams will provide opportunities for residents and area families to enjoy clean water in their neighborhoods. Greener and cleaner neighborhoods will make Baltimore City and Baltimore County more livable for all our citizens. For more information, visit www.healthyharbor.org.


Blue Water Baltimore is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and Harbor to foster a healthy environment, a strong economy, and thriving communities.  The Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, a program of Blue Water Baltimore, maintains a robust long-term water quality monitoring program to collect all of the data that make up the grades in the Report Card.  For more information, visit www.bluewaterbaltimore.org.



Waterfront Partnership is the proud steward of Baltimore’s crown jewel, its Inner Harbor and Waterfront. We’re lean, nimble and effective; the only organization that wakes up every day, rolls its sleeves up and gets to work on new ways we can make Baltimore’s Waterfront even more active, attractive and appealing. We’re the hosts who greet visitors, the creators of programs and promotions and managers of our beautiful parks. We encourage investment in Baltimore’s most celebrated asset so it can continue to grow, to serves as a place of pride and the place where Baltimoreans come together to recreate and to celebrate. For more information, visit www.waterfrontpartnership.org.