Navigating Toward A Healthy Harbor

“The city has a lot of hard, impervious surfaces, so with our polluted storm water, it has nowhere to go but into the storm drains,” explains Mark Cameron, watershed liaison with DPW. “Then [it flows] into our streams and into our harbor because we’re just not able to capture it.”

Creating more penetrable surfaces is part of the city’s MS4 or Municipal Separate Storm Sanitary Sewer plan, which aims to better capture and filter storm-water runoff, reducing the amount flowing into sewers. The plan works in tandem with the goals of Healthy Harbor 2020 but was initially designed in response to the consent decree signed in 2002 that binds Baltimore and several cities across the country to benchmarks enforced by the EPA.

The recent storm-water fee ratified by both the city and county created and fuels a fund to pay for sewer system compliance. Placement of storm grates to better capture solid waste, increased sewer-pipe-outfall monitoring and stream restoration are also part of the MS4 plan, explains Cameron.

In addition to pollutants, excessive runoff can create faster-running water at greater volumes that can easily and quickly erode natural surfaces, creating potentially hazardous outcomes such as sewer-pipe breakage and seepage, stream altering and channel cutting — all of which can set off a chain of negative effects.

Over the next five years, Cameron told a recent public meeting in the Fordleigh neighborhood, the city wants to restore 20 percent of impervious surfaces in order to improve natural absorption and filtering of storm water. In addition, it seeks to stabilize nine miles of stream banks affecting 2,840 acres of watershed and to plant more than 26,000 trees to reduce the amount of polluted runoff ending up in streams.

Cameron explains that to achieve these goals, DPW couldn’t work alone. It partners with organizations such as Parks and People and Blue Water Baltimore.

“They can alert us [of compromised sewers], and we can investigate,” he says. “What we’re trying to get everyone to understand is that while DPW may be the lead and may be the agency responsible for compliance, other agencies, nonprofits, businesses, communities — everyone has to be a part of this, everyone has to play a role.”

Getting the Jewish community to play a bigger role in environmental stewardship is something Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin has been working at for almost a decade at what she calls “the intersection of the faith and environmental communities.”

Ten years ago, as a JCC educator, Cardin was trying to get the Jewish community to adopt educational, advocacy and operational changes, but she didn’t get the response and traction that was needed.

“Jews have always been involved in social justice issues, progressive issues; wherever there was an injustice issue for the world, we would be there,” she says. “Environmentalism was a critical issue for the world, and we weren’t there.”

Cardin, who also founded the Baltimore Jewish Environmental Network in 2006, quit her teaching job to direct her energy toward engaging the Jewish and interfaith communities in environmental issues. One of her great frustrations is the lack of a systemized response from the Jewish community.

“It just shows you how far we have come, as a diaspora people, from our roots,” she says. “Because if you look at Torah, we are a landed people.”

She cites the Bible’s beginnings, with the creation of land and the Garden of Eden, “which commands that humanity is charged with tending and caring for the earth so the earth supports us, as we support the earth.”

The Jewish connection to environmental stewardship is clear, says Cardin, who chairs Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake and its 10,000 Trees campaign, which partners with Blue Water Baltimore and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to identify congregations — Chizuk Amuno Congregation and the Bolton Street Synagogue have already completed their projects — that want to plant trees to restore areas on their property. “Trees are the very center of our vision of what a beautiful world looks like. So powerful [is that vision] that a Torah scroll is held onto by atzeh chaim, trees of life, the wooden dowels around which the Torah is wrapped and bound.

“And it may sound trite but [there is also] the mantra, l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation,” she continues. “Our very identity is from generation to generation, that we’re responsible for the gift we’ve been given, and we give it improved to the next generation.”

But it is improvement for the current generation that is the ambitious aim of Healthy Harbor, reminds Flores.

“It’s a big goal. It is doable,” he says, also calling to mind the same goal of the 1972 Clean Water Act that aimed for swimmable and fishable waters nationwide, but was not successful. “So 2020 is really important because it holds us accountable, not just our local and state governments, for improving waterways. As a nonprofit watershed restoration community, it keeps us accountable to what we want to achieve and drives us forward at a scale and intensity that we really need.”

In Flores’ vision, by 2020 people will be able to safely kayak and canoe in the harbor and not worry about contracting an illness if they get splashed.

“Does it mean people are going to be jumping off the Inner Harbor promenade into the harbor?” he asks. “Probably not.”

Still, Naor, the Inner Harbor marina COO, says he’ll “be the first one to jump.”

“But you’ve got to clean the water first,” he adds. “We’re waiting for it to happen.”

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