Baltimore County officials have launched a new online water quality dashboard to allow the public to review and monitor waterway data.
The data used in the water quality dashboard is compiled through chemical and bacteria samples collected by the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS).
The implementation of this dashboard is the latest effort from County Executive John Olszewski’s administration to make county information more accessible to residents.
“Transparency and accountability are cornerstones of my administration, and this dashboard is yet another example of our commitment to making important data easily accessible for residents,” said Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski. “This up-to-date information about the health of our neighborhood streams will show trends in water quality and prove useful to everyone from scientists and students to community leaders, boaters and people who just want to enjoy Baltimore County’s beautiful waterways.”
According to a county press release, the data will be posted to the Water Quality Dashboard quarterly throughout the year, where the county’s division of natural resource specialists will review more than 100 specific sites each month.
The county says the team of natural resource specialists will check “an array of indicators and pollutants” that include pH balance, total nitrogen, phosphorous, suspended solids and E. coli levels.
The Water Quality Dashboard comes after a yearlong debacle between the city-owned Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Maryland Environmental Service that saw the state take over operational control of the plant from the verge of “catastrophic failure.”
Residents can access the Water Quality Dashboard through the county’s website.
According to the dashboard, the sampling sites nearest to the Back River plant saw their highest E. coli MPN levels in April and September of last year, at 2,500 — the highest number the dashboard can calculate.
Any E. coli level over 130 MPN is deemed unsafe. Samples at those sites in December, November and October have all been below 130 MPN.
However, the county says that each data points in the dashboard “is a snapshot in time, generally taken about once per month” and the dashboard does not indicate whether it is safe for recreational activities.
Since then, E. coli levels at the plant have gradually lowered through the end of last year. The city and state’s agreement over the plant’s control expired on Dec. 31, after the plant consistently met environmental standards for several months.
Though residents living along Back River have called for the state to have indefinite control of the Back River plant, no announcements have been made to confirm that state services will remain at the plant.
According to the county, the dashboard’s data is used “to indicate the condition of specific waterways” and point out high risk streams that will help county officials develop strategies to reduce pollution and improve water quality.
Back in April, though, Maryland environmental officials declared Back River was unsafe for drinking, swimming or any human contact.
Although discharge from the wastewater treatment plant is not the only source of E. coli in the river, the advisory came after state inspectors had reported the city-owned plant was failing to filter bacteria and pollution before releasing into the water.
Last week, the Chesapeake Bay and its nearby waterways received a D+ grade from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) in their 2022 State of the Bay report.
According to the report, seven out of the 13 habitat indicators have remained unchanged with three improved and another three got worse.
The report says pollutants like nitrogen, toxics, and dissolved oxygen indicators remained the same level in the bay as the phosphorus indicator improved causing overall water clarity declined.
“While we’ve made significant progress, far too much pollution still reaches our waterways and climate change is making matters worse,” said CBF President Hilary Harp Falk. “The good news is that the Bay is remarkably resilient and there is tremendous energy around the table.”
County officials warn how everyday habits of residents can cause pollution throughout local waterways such as improperly disposing trash, littering on public grounds and not picking up after pets. The county encourages residents to replace lawn pesticides with organic alternatives, install rain gardens and disconnect downspouts to keep unfiltered stormwater from rushing into local streams.