Baltimore: EPA’s First Village Blue Project

By Christina Burchette

Baltimore, Maryland is a lively city full of culture and friendly people, but like other urban communities located on a waterfront, Baltimore has its share of water quality and management challenges. In particular, Baltimore struggles with sanitary sewer overflows that dump trash and wastewater into the harbor any time there’s a major storm.

The sensors will gather real-time water quality measurements near Baltimore's Mr. Trash Wheel on the Jones Fall River.

The sensors will gather real-time water quality measurements near Baltimore’s Mr. Trash Wheel on the Jones Fall River.

EPA is working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) on the “Village Blue” project which will collect water quality data to help support the existing federal, state, and local efforts to restore the environment and protect public health. Staff from both agencies will use low-cost water sensors to collect real-time water quality data at a monitoring site on the Jones Falls River, close to the Baltimore Water Wheel. This effort will also let researchers get a first look at new technologies in use. These sensors will measure:

a blue water sensor

Example of a water quality sensor being used in the research project

  • conductivity, which indirectly measures how much salt is present in the water through electricity
  • dissolved oxygen levels
  • nitrate levels
  • pH
  • temperature
  • turbidity (water clarity)
  • pigment molecules like chlorophyll and phycocyanin, which are both found in algal blooms
  • tidal height, and
  • water flow direction.

The data collected will be displayed on an interactive Village Blue website in an easy to understand way. The site will provide viewers with insights into the relationship between Baltimore’s water quality and the surrounding environment, and how both can trigger changes that can affect public health and the environment. For instance, viewers would be able to make the connection between high rainfall and subsequent results like sewer overflows or harmful algal blooms.

By making this information available and accessible, we hope to increase Baltimore’s awareness of local water quality issues and encourage community members to participate in improving the city’s water quality.

The Village Blue project will be highlighted at a White House roundtable in Baltimore today, alongside other efforts to restore Baltimore’s harbor and improve the community overall through environmental efforts.

For more on the Village Blue project, see our fact sheet (PDF).

About the Author: Christina Burchette is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor and writer for the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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