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Case Studies

Below are case studies of communities from around the North East that have been successful in the restoration of their waterways. These case studies are designed to offer ideas and examples that the Baltimore region can adopt and features the following waterways:


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Jamaica Bay: New York, NY

Dredging, filling, and development of New York City’s Jamaica Bay in the early 20th century caused the marshland to decline in water quality and degraded wildlife habitat. The first proposal for conservation aimed to protect the Bay for use as a park, but the contaminated water from sewer overflows, storm sewers, and wastewater pollution control plants, made the Bay unrecognizable from the natural marshland it once was.

Restoration and planning required the cooperation of government agencies and local organizations. A Watershed Protection Plan was completed in 2007 and includes a comprehensive list of objectives for management strategies, implementation, and watershed issues. The plan has 6 goal categories that include various pilot projects that show promise in restoration efforts.

Download a PDF and read more about Jamaica Bay.

Elizabeth River: Norfolk, VA

As the largest natural harbor in the world, the Elizabeth River in southeastern Virginia attracted colonists to build a shipyard, making dredging and wetland destruction necessary to accommodate the crowded Harbor.

In the early 1900s, the river was already subject to an oyster ban due to water pollution. In 1991, citizens formed the Elizabeth River Project to restore the river and economy. Numerous stakeholders participated in the 2008 planning, creating a monitoring program in 6 priority areas and 7 priority actions, including sediment clean up as number one.

To encourage polluting industries to reduce contamination, restore shorelines, and conserve land, the River Star Program ranks various industries, businesses, and schools based on acres of wildlife habitat created and pounds of pollution reduced. The plan aims to make the River swimmable and fishable by 2020.

Download a PDF and read more about the Elizabeth River.

Charles River: Boston, MA

The Charles River drains rural, suburban, and urban land before reaching the Boston Harbor. Along the river are boathouses, jogging paths, sports fields, rowing and yacht clubs, and sailing programs.

The river became heavily polluted from industrial and domestic waste, becoming unsafe for human contact in the 1950s. In 1995, a poor report card prompted the ambitious Clean Charles River Initiative, aiming to make the River swimmable and fishable by 2005.

The primary focus has been on reducing bacteria by addressing illicit sewer connections. The cooperation of many groups has informed the public of the state of the River and worked toward improvements. The Initiative has been successful in restoring water quality and the Charles River Swimming Club now hosts competitive swimming events annually.

Download a PDF and read more about the Charles River.

Milwaukee River & Harbor: Milwaukee, WI

The Milwaukee River Basin is home to 1.3 million people and mostly rural lands. Intensive development in the 1930s brought sewage and industrial waste into the river, deteriorating the water quality.

The Water Pollution Abatement Program focuses on increasing the capacity of sewage treatment plants and constructing the “Deep Tunnel,” which stores stormwater overflow until it can be treated. Research found that green infrastructure is more cost effective for treating stormwater than traditional pipes in the ground.

Positive cost analyses and revisions to City ordinances aim to incorporate more green infrastructure. Funding projects that utilize BMPs, monitor water quality, and continuous trash cleanup efforts have made a significant change.

Download a PDF and read more about Milwaukee River.

Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers: Philadelphia, PA

The City’s streams and waterways have been degraded by urbanization and combined sewer overflows. Philadelphia’s Office of Watersheds, part of the city’s water department, created Green City, Clean Waters: a combined sewer overflow long term control plan.  The plan recommends extensive use of green infrastructure to control stormwater and improve the city’s waterways.  As part of the justification for this plan, the city performed a Triple Bottom Line analysis that considered nine criteria and implemented an extensive economic valuation approach to assign a dollar value to each benefit provided by green infrastructure. 

The analysis concluded that a 50% green infrastructure option (meaning 50% of runoff is managed through green infrastructure) would bring greater benefits in all categories than traditional gray infrastructure.  The city valued these benefits at $2.85 billion accruing over 40 years, compared to just $122 million in benefits from gray infrastructure.

Download a PDF and read more about Philadelphia's Green City, Clean Waters plan.