Swimmable Cities Report


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Swimmable Cities: Lessons for Baltimore from Five Cities that Have Cleaned Up Their Rivers, Lakes and Estuaries provides a detailed look at how five major U.S. cities have overcome sewer infrastructure problems – similar to those faced by Baltimore – to make major improvements in the health of their waterways. The report examines the cities of Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Norfolk, and identifies key factors in their successes, which include major reductions in sewage flows and a return of recreation in previously polluted waters.

Swimmable Cities was produced by the Center for Watershed Protection and funded by the Abell Foundation. It uncovers why other cities have had more success than Baltimore and what lessons should be implemented in Baltimore to ensure that the City achieves its clean water goals for its streams and Harbor.

Some key findings of the report include:

  • Baltimore’s current approach to reduce sewage overflows focuses on eliminating overflows caused by rain events and maintenance issues. However, widespread and continuous small sewage spills that result from leaking pipes or illegal sewer connections to the storm drain system allow more sewage to enter waterways annually and are not being addressed.
  • Baltimore does not monitor water quality improvements after infrastructure projects are implemented. Regulations in other cities tie the success of infrastructure repair projects to water quality improvements. Without defined water quality endpoints, the City cannot measure progress, nor be held accountable for the stated goal of the consent decree: compliance with the Clean Water Act.
  • Relationships between governments and local environmental organizations have evolved from adversarial to mutually beneficial, as organizations that were initially involved in lawsuits became partners working toward a common goal. This “spirit of collaboration” could greatly improve Baltimore’s chances for a successful cleanup if the City can build stronger working relationships with its environmental community.
  • The timeline for Baltimore’s mandated cleanup effort is more aggressive than the case study cities. Baltimore was given 14 years to complete its consent decree projects, less than half the time given to Boston (34 years) or Atlanta (29 years) and 10 years less than the 24-year average for the case study cities.
  • Baltimore’s projected costs of $1.1 billion are inline with the profiled communities as well as the national average of $709 million.

The report also highlights the important roles that political leadership, increased investment from State and Federal partners, and exploring innovative technologies have played in other cleanup efforts.

The City’s consent decree program is currently being renegotiated after the City failed to meet its January 1, 2016 deadline. The Healthy Harbor Initiative hopes the case studies and recommendations will help inform the consent decree extension and give Baltimore residents and leaders a better understanding of proven solutions to reducing sewage flows to Baltimore’s streams and Harbor.

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 more livable for all our citizens. For more information on the Healthy Harbor initiative, visit www.healthyharbor.org.