First Environmental Monitoring System For Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

By on October 21, 2016

Various sensors mounted on a water quality sonde. (Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / Public Domain)

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the rivers that flow into it are important sources of water to Chesapeake Bay, popular recreation sites and the targets of an ambitious clean-up plan. But the city has for some time lacked an environmental monitoring system for tracking water quality in the harbor continuously.

That is about to change, thanks to a collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It will lead to the new installation of a suite of sensors that will provide the public and scientists with the first comprehensive, real time look at water quality in the harbor.

“Everyone deserves clean water and the sensors will provide the local community a real-time look at water quality in the harbor, informing efforts to improve it,” said Don Cline, the USGS’ associate director for water.

The environmental monitoring system will be mounted near a pedestrian bridge across the mouth of Jones Falls, overlooking the Baltimore Harbor Water Wheel. Two instruments will continuously monitor the water’s flow and quality.

That information will automatically feed into two online networks, including the USGS’ WaterQualityWatch website. It is used by researchers, water quality managers and citizen scientists around the country. The other is a pilot project backed by the EPA called Village Blue.

Administrators at the EPA say that the initiative will provide the public with access to water quality data that they can use in a number of important ways. The info could also help people become better stewards of their local waterways.

The Baltimore Village Blue station is the first of its kind in the nation. It is modeled on an existing EPA air quality awareness program called Village Green that has air pollution monitoring stations in six U.S. cities.

Inner Harbor Water Wheel, Baltimore. (Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / Public Domain)

It will make flow and water-quality information from the Jones Falls environmental monitoring system available to the public in an easy-to-read format on a special EPA website. The information will also be available at the USGS water data website, where information from about 1.5 million water monitoring sites nationwide is made public and searchable.

“The information we’re gathering will help scientists better understand how to clean up the
Chesapeake Bay,” said Mary Kay Foley, director of the USGS’ Maryland-Delaware-DC Water Science Center. “And it will empower the citizens of Baltimore by giving them real-time water quality and hydrologic information about the current status of their historic waterfront.”

The USGS operates more than a dozen continuous, comprehensive water-quality monitoring stations in Maryland, including several in the Baltimore metro area. Information from these monitoring stations helps USGS hydrologists quantify the amount, types and sources of pollution going into Chesapeake Bay. Those data are helping to guide Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.

The new environmental monitoring system will be equipped with a flow meter and a water quality sonde with five sensors that will continuously measure water temperature, salinity, oxygen content, pH and turbidity. A sixth sensor, to be added later, will measure dissolved nitrogen compounds, which act as a fertilizer for algae blooms.

Funding for the new equipment was provided through allocations by the U.S. Congress following Superstorm Sandy. The EPA will support the new station and the Village Blue website. The Inner Harbor site may also serve as a test location for low-cost water monitoring sensors in the future.

Top image: Various sensors mounted on a water quality sonde. (Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / Public Domain)

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