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Online map tracks Baltimore's polluted streams, harbor

The color of pollution: New online map tracks how clean or dirty Baltimore's streams and harbor are.

Baltimoreans have a nifty new way to get the lowdown on how clean - or polluted - their streams and harbor are.

The Baltimore Harbor Water Alert website, which debuts Wednesday, features an interactive map tracking water quality from the suburban headwaters of the Jones Falls and Gwynns Falls all the way through the city to where the Patapsco River meets the Chesapeake Bay.

Blue Water Baltimore, the local watershed advocacy group, and the Healthy Harbor Initiative have teamed up to produce the new map, which provides regular updates on a variety of indicators of how safe the water is for people and fish. 

“We hope that community leaders, policy-makers, and everyone passionate about clean water will use the HarborAlert website to help raise awareness and interest in their communities for reducing water pollution and to make informed decisions before kayaking or swimming in their local river,” said Alice Volpitta, water quality manager for Blue Water Baltimore.

This is a more comprehensive and snazzier map than the one Blue Water Baltimore produced a few years ago that tracked bacteria counts around the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch of the Patapsco.  It still opens by displaying those very important indicators of whether people risk getting sick by going in the water, with the latest measurements showing that the Gwynns Falls and most of the Jones Falls are still plagued by polluted runoff and sewage leaks or overflows.

But the new website also includes a full suite of other water quality measurements, including indicators of the presence of algae blooms and particularly of potentially dangerous blue-green algae. And while it may use some terms unfamiliar to non-scientists - such as phycoerythrin, the blue-green algae indicator - there's a "parameters" tab that explains all. 

"It is just the type of tool that Baltimore’s students and teachers can use in the classroom to learn about watershed science, water chemistry, and to observe ecological phenomena, such as algae blooms, in near real-time,” said Adam Lindquist, Healthy Harbor manager for the Waterfront Partnership, a nonprofit group of harbor businesses and attractions, community groups and municipal officials.

The data will be updated based on regular sampling being done in the streams and the harbor by Blue Water Baltimore.

"It's going to give a much larger picture of what's going on in real time throughout our watershed," said David Flores, the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper.

The only things seemingly missing, or at least hard for my tired eyes to find, are a couple prominent links that would give visitors more context and perhaps encourage them to get involved in doing something about Baltimore's troubled waters.  The Healthy Harbor website includes more information on the state of the harbor and what's being done and planned to deal with it.  And Blue Water Baltimore's website, of course, carries a calendar of events and list of volunteer opportunities.

Oh, and will there be an app for all that?

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