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Making Baltimore Harbor swimmable will entail eliminating the harmful e-coli bacteria that enters the Harbor from broken and improperly connected sewer lines as well as reducing the amount of pet waste left in lawns and parks.
The presence of bacteria in the tributary streams and the Harbor has led the Maryland Department of the Environment to issue "pollution diets" known as TMDLs for bacteria in both the Jones Falls and the Gwynns Falls. Another bacteria TMDL is currently being developed for the Harbor.
Baltimore has a system of separate storm and sanitary sewers and much of the system is 100 years old. The sanitary sewer pipes carry sewage to large treatment plants. The storm pipes carry rainwater untreated to the nearest stream or directly to the Harbor. The two sets of pipes are not intended to be connected, but cracks and illegal connections exist in many places.
Repair of major sewer pipes is underway by City and County governments, but more work is needed to identify illicit discharges of sewage, to find places where sewers and storm drains are illegally connected, and to ensure that all the pipes are functioning well. Money to repair the sewer pipes is raised by surcharges on residents’ sewer bills, but no money is currently designated to repair the failing stormwater pipes.
The Healthy Harbor plan lays out strategies for eliminating the bacteria problem by dealing more comprehensively with the dual infrastructure pipe system. It calls for eliminating illegal connections; improving monitoring; doing a better job of tracking problems to their source; moving more quickly to address problems; and developing a public outreach campaign to encourage people to clean up after their pets.