by Donya Currie
June 29, 2011
Tucked into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor just below the Hard Rock Café sign reading “Save the Planet” floats a manmade island designed to do just that.
About the size of a minivan, the developed-in-Maryland island looks like a slice of nature—lush with green plants—bobbing along the surface of the water as Styrofoam cups, empty soda bottles, and other litter float by.
Its native wetland plants, such as rose mallow and seaside goldenrod, thrive in harbor water that’s been over-fertilized by nutrients running off the nearby land. Underneath, the island provides a habitat for microbes that will literally consume pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus, bringing the harbor one step closer to being swimmable and fishable by 2020.
“They’re a concentrated wetland, and they’re made of all recycled materials, which is cool,” says Ted Gattino, a managing partner of the Ellicott City-based BlueWing Environmental Solutions and Technology, which has obtained contracts to place a total of 18 acres of such islands in the harbor.
“They can be placed in almost any water body. The reports keep getting better and better.”
Maryland is well-positioned to help in the quest for cleaner water, both thanks to the natural backyard laboratory that is the Chesapeake Bay and because a trove of scientists, engineers, and business owners has come together to showcase the viability of new technology for pollution prevention and cleanup.
Entrepreneurs and environmental stakeholders from the areas of government, science, research, and the technology community are joining forces to demonstrate these projects in the Chesapeake Bay, including Baltimore Harbor.
“Besides the innovative technologies, we have an important model that we can share,” says Peter Gourlay, founder of the Maryland-Asia Environmental Partnership (MD-AEP), which highlights local clean-water technologies.
“We have over 80 years of science and research invested in the Chesapeake Bay.”
Beloved and relied upon for serving the area’s recreational and fishing needs as well as industrial-, agricultural-, and potable-water demands, the bay also faces unprecedented challenges, Gourlay says, ranging from excessive nutrient runoff resulting from increased urban and suburban sprawl to rising sea levels to depleted fisheries.
“Every country in the world is facing similar challenges to those we face in Chesapeake Bay,” says Gourlay, illustrating why the bay provides a great model for lessons learned—both good and bad—that can be shared with other countries.
With its 41 million acres of watershed and 200,000 miles of shoreline, the bay is the most-studied estuary—which, by definition, contain salt water, fresh water, and brackish water, a mixture of both—in the world.
Wildlife in such an environment must be hardy. If it’s dying off, “You know you’re doing something really wrong,” says engineer Christopher Overcash of the Maryland office of KCI Technologies.
Dwindling oyster populations and algae blooms resulting in fish kills have long concerned area lawmakers, citizens, and scientists, leading to clean-water advancements that can serve as lessons across the country and worldwide.
“This region, more than any other region in the country, has absolutely embraced advanced waste-treatment technology,” says Ann Swanson, executive director of the tri-state Chesapeake Bay Commission, which pushes for bay restoration.
“All of our facilities of the larger 100,000 gallons or more have advanced phosphorus removal, and most of them now are moving toward advanced nitrogen removal.”
Swanson traveled to Ohio’s Little Miami River in May to share lessons learned from the Chesapeake Bay. Although that river is a mere 100 miles long, with 1.1 million acres of watershed—tiny compared to the bay—clean-water advocates there wanted to apply the Chesapeake region’s wastewater treatment knowledge.
In terms of numbers, Swanson explains local clean-water progress this way: In 1985, the load for wastewater treatment plants in the Chesapeake Bay region was 90.9 million pounds per year. By 2009, the number was nearly halved, at 53.3 million pounds. The current goal is to bring the figure to 30.9 million pounds by 2025.
Read the entire article on marylandlife.com