More than 200 Over 300 paddlers launched their canoes, kayaks and standup paddle boards from the Canton Waterfront Park, paddled 2.5 miles to the Inner Harbor for a rally for clean and healthy water. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)
About 300 paddlers seated in kayaks and canoes, and some standing on paddle boards, traveled Saturday morning from Canton Waterfront Park to the Inner Harbor Promenade to rally for funding for the Chesapeake Bay.
The group formed the second annual "Floatilla for a Healthy Harbor," an event created by the nonprofit Waterfront Partnership to ask city, state and federal officials to support efforts to improve water quality of the harbor and the bay.
"It's getting better, but it's not done," Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker told the crowd, which gathered by the Harborplace amphitheater.
The Waterfront Partnership's Healthy Harbor Initiative gave the Inner Harbor's water a low grade in its annual report card this year because of high levels of fecal bacteria, though it found improvements in the water near Fells Point, Canton and much of the Patapsco's Middle Branch.
While the focus of last year's Floatilla was getting city leaders to comply with a judge's orders to fix an antiquated sewer infrastructure that allows sewage to flow into the harbor, this year's concern has shifted to lobbying for federal support for the Chesapeake Bay.
Baker expressed concern about losing decades-long support by the federal government for bay cleanup efforts, which includes coordination with surrounding states, under President Donald Trump's administration, which has proposed eliminating funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
At a meeting in Annapolis this week, representatives from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, the District of Columbia and the Environmental Protection Agency signed a resolution urging Trump and Congress "to continue the current level of federal support for the Chesapeake Bay Program" and maintain "the active, coordinating role of the EPA."
Gov. Larry Hogan said he has reached out to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and expressed concern about the future of the bay program, and described Pruitt was receptive.
Baker told the crowd of boaters Saturday that the EPA is instrumental for enforcement of bay cleanup, and he urged those in the crowd to write letters to their legislators to support funding.
"Clean water is not a luxury" and should be something the government supports, Baker said.
Many of the boaters carried signs that read "Fund the Bay." One carried the message "Clean it up, hon." They wore life jackets, and some sported hats in the shape of a crab.
Among the crowd was Marshall Drecchio, 65, of Severna Park, who paddled six miles to join the flotilla after launching at the Southwest Area Park in Baltimore County.
"Anything I can do to support the cause," he said while seated in his red kayak, as his son, Jason, took his picture from the promenade.
Drecchio, a retired law enforcement officer, said he enjoys paddling around the Inner Harbor, admiring the urban scenery and getting close-up views of visiting tall ships.
Drecchio said since he started kayaking in the Inner Harbor, he's noticed less trash in the water, but occasionally he will reach in and pull out some litter. After Superstorm Sandy, he recalled seeing large amounts of refuse in the harbor, including recycling boxes from Harrisburg.
Adam Lindquist, manager of the Waterfront Partnership's Healthy Harbor Initiative, said though water quality has improved with help from Mr. Trash Wheel, which has collected more than 1 million pounds of trash over three years, there's still much work to be done.
Mr. Trash Wheel and the Floatilla are efforts by the Waterfront Partnership to get residents involved, he said.
"When I started this job, there wasn't an emotional connection to the Inner Harbor," he said. But the group of 300 paddlers is "a huge audience," and one that is growing, he said.