Water quality monitoring data can help us understand the complex relationship between our communities and the watershed. Working with our partners at Blue Water Baltimore, The Commons is thrilled to announce the launch of BaltimoreWaterWatch.org where for the first time, users are able visualize in-depth information about the specific measurements of water health in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and tributaries. Every indicator tracked by Blue Water Baltimore’s monitoring program is equally important; from the Dissolved Oxygen content in the Inner Harbor to the Conductivity Levels in the Towson Run, each measurement has a story to tell about the ecology of the streams, rivers, and harbor — and the pollutants degrading them.
On Baltimore Water Watch, users can easily find the recent results on the Current Conditions map where they can toggle between each indicator to reveal how the latest sample stacks up against the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) water quality standards. Baltimore Water Watch affords users the ability to explore how the overall ecosystem health has changed over time using the Report Card map. In addition to seeing the overall score for each station in 2018 and previous years, the new map displays results for each indicator. Blue Water Baltimore field staff and volunteers monitor 49 stations in the streams and rivers of the Baltimore region year round and run the most rigorous non-traditional monitoring program in the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.
After collecting tens of thousands of data points in 2018, Baltimore Water Watch, powered by the Water Reporter Platform, analyzes these data to generate a water quality report card which shows overall scores of water health at each of the tidal and non tidal stations. With the help of Water Reporter and the hard work of Blue Water Baltimore staff, our platform has helped unlock some of the biggest water quality stories in the region from 2018:
- 2018 was the wettest year on record for the Baltimore region with over 71 inches of rain — that’s 29 inches more than an average year! The excessive rainfall had some complex effects on water quality in our streams, rivers, and harbor; and you might be surprised by some of our results.
- Despite the fact that 2018 was the rainiest year on record, Blue Water Baltimore continued to observe improved bacteria scores in non-tidal waterways. This is encouraging news because there have been two years of data showing improvements! While we can’t attribute these improvements to any specific cause, we know that Baltimore City and Baltimore County are working to repair and update their pipe infrastructures with a goal of reducing sewage overflows into waterways. 2019 data could help validate if this is truly an upward trend.
- Turbidity and Phosphorus scores were significantly worse in the Gwynns Falls watershed in 2018 than ever before. This is most likely due to increased stormwater runoff from the heavy rains we received last year. Polluted stormwater runoff brings massive sediment loads into waterways, and phosphorus tends to cling to those sediment particles. Other contaminants such as microplastics, pesticides, and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can also cling to sediment and degrade our streams and harbor even further.
- Nutrients like Nitrogen and Phosphorus tend to feed algae blooms because they act like fertilizers for the microscopic plants that naturally live in tidal waterways. Based on the increased Phosphorus in the Gwynns Falls, one might expect to see increased algae blooms in the receiving Baltimore Harbor and tidal Patapsco River. However, we saw dramatically improved chlorophyll levels throughout our tidal waterways in 2018, which is the parameter we use to detect the presence of algae in the water. We believe this is because the excessive amounts of rain had a flushing effect on our waterways, and the algae was essentially swept out to sea before it could grow into a bloom.
Don’t take our word for it. For those who want to analyze and interpret this data on their own, Baltimore Water Watch allows users to directly download all six years of our water quality monitoring data from 2013 to 2018. Visit BaltimoreWaterWatch.org to find out more about the health of our waterways, and discover the stories our data are telling.
We’ll be sharing our work on Baltimore Water Watch at this year’s 10th annual Choose Clean Water Conference. Find the Water Reporter table and be sure to come to our breakout session entitled: Tracking & Reporting the Health of Baltimore’s Waterways(Wednesday, 1:15 in the Promenade)