Study shows parts of Jones Falls are cleaner

But some city areas still have high levels of waste

September 15, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

A comprehensive study of the Jones Falls watershed released yesterday reported decreased levels of waste in some areas, but heavy metals, nutrients and sediments remain in high concentrations in other parts of the waterway that leads to the Inner Harbor.

The Jones Falls Watershed Association assessment of the watershed's health -- billed as the first such comprehensive report on the 58-square-mile waterway -- showed improvements in areas bolstered by channel streams, cleanup campaigns and other reconstruction.

But areas with increased land development, particularly Baltimore, showed high levels of harmful waste.

"We find that things are getting better, but there is still a lot of work to be done, and we know specifically that the sewage upgrades are going to help a tremendous amount," said Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of the association.

In 2002, the city agreed to a consent decree negotiated with the federal Environmental Protection Agency calling for it to pay a $600,000 fine and $900 million to overhaul its aging sewage system over nearly 15 years.

Past overflows have dumped millions of gallons of sewage into watersheds, including the Jones Falls.

In a previous analysis, high levels of copper, zinc and lead were found in the Jones Falls. Yesterday's report said zinc levels had decreased to normal levels. But in the Stony Run area of Baltimore, high levels of nutrients and sediments prevent fish and other organisms from living there.

To accompany the release of the report -- and to draw attention to this weekend's celebration of the Jones Falls -- Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley toured a portion of the watershed yesterday in a canoe. With paddle to the water, O'Malley said he saw a lot of wildlife in and around the stream.

"This is a unique way to see the city," O'Malley said after the tour.

"There were points of the trip where you felt you were a million miles from any big city -- there were some beautiful birds that we were seeing," he said.

The tour also showed plastic bottles, car tires, a bicycle and a floating propane tank.

On Sunday, the eighth annual Jones Falls Valley Celebration will take place, including events on the Jones Falls Expressway and the water beneath it.

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