A recent post from Blue Water Baltimore used the very tangible evidence of pollution in Baltimore’s harbor–the recent algae bloom, and corresponding fish kills–as a call to better enforce water pollution prohibitions and to repair water infrastructure.
David Flores, water quality manager for the nonprofit group, vividly describes the noxious conditions in the harbor this spring. After an increase in the levels of chlorophyll a, water samples looked like “bottles of iced tea” and the stench near the Domino Sugar Plant “was like cinnamon buns baked with dirty diapers and rotten seafood.” The Sun also wrote recently about how the smell colored tourists’ perceptions of the harbor over Memorial Day weekend.
Though it’s common for algae growth to increase in spring and summer, this year’s was particularly intense. The Sun reports that environmentalists cited factors such as the mild winter and recent spill of an estimated 50 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Patapsco River as being probably responsible for the intensity.
Flores of Blue Water Baltimore said he knew the algae bloom was just the precursor to the next phase: “It was with great sadness that I waited for the other shoe to drop: a fish kill throughout my watershed.” As the algae decomposes, it consumes oxygen in the water, leaving fish with none to breathe. The result, Flores writes, is “dead and dying Bay life-forms of all kinds: blue crabs and finfish gasping for air at the surface, dead grass shrimp washing up in large numbers on the shoreline, and fields of dead menhaden and other fish floating near Ft. McHenry.”
Officials have said tens of thousands of fish have died as result of the algae bloom. They’re also watching out for growth of a particular type of algae, Karlodinium veneficum, that can be fatal to humans.
Blue Water Baltimore points to some cause for optimism with the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, a “pollution diet” imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010. Maryland recently submitted its final documents to the agency for “Phase II” of its Watershed Implementation Plan, a process that extends to 2017.
Flores recommends starting the progress by repairing Baltimore’s leaking and broken water infrastructure, and stepping up enforcement for polluters. He also suggests subsidizing green industries and encouraging voluntary adoption of restoration practices. Flores concludes that “constantly waiting for the next shoe to drop is not a strategy that Baltimore can afford to adopt.”