Outdoor Recreation and Baltimore’s Waterways
- What is Fecal Bacteria?
- How is Bacteria Monitored?
- What Are the Health Risks?
- What Precautions Should I Take?
- What Can I Do to Prevent Pollution?
- Where Can I Get More Information?
There are many different ways that people can enjoy Baltimore’s natural waterways – strolling along our stream valley parks, sailing and kayaking the harbor, and exploring the flora and fauna in our streams. We want people to have positive outdoor recreational experiences, but pollution, especially fecal bacteria, can pose safety and health risks. We want people to enjoy our waterways safely, so the following is information about potential risks, precautions that should be taken, and what you can do to prevent pollution.
WHAT IS FECAL BACTERIA?
Fecal bacteria are microscopic single-celled organisms (primarily fecal coliforms and fecal streptococci) found in the wastes of warm-blooded animals. Their presence in water is used to assess the sanitary quality of water for body-contact recreation and consumption of crabs and fish. Several of Baltimore’s waterways are designated as impaired for fecal bacteria by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
One major source of harmful bacterial is fecal contamination, which can come from diapers, feces from pets, rats or wildlife, sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), illicit discharges and illegal hookups, and storm water runoff.
HOW IS BACTERIA MONITORED?
DPW measures fecal bacteria with e. coli most probable number (MPN) counts at twenty-three (23) stations – these are listed in Table 3 of the MS4 Annual Report. Additional information can also be found on the Stream and Harbor Sampling web page.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH RISKS?
Excessive amounts of fecal bacteria in surface water used for recreation are known to indicate an increased risk of pathogen-induced illness to humans. Infections due to pathogen-contaminated recreation waters include gastrointestinal, respiratory, eye, ear, nose, throat, and skin diseases.
WHAT PRECAUTIONS SHOULD I TAKE?
- Heed posted advisories or closings.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water after coming in contact with the water.
- Stay out of the water 48 hours following a significant rain event.
- Do not swallow stream or harbor water and try not to get it in your mouth.
- Do not go in the water if you have diarrhea.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT POLLUTION?
BE PART OF THE SOLUTION! Everyone can play a role in improving Baltimore’s streams and harbors. Here are a few simple things that you can do:
- Pick up waste from your pets and dispose of it in the trash.
- Properly dispose of litter/trash.
- Do not attract duck, geese, or seagulls by feeding them.
- Do not dump anything into a storm drain.
- Report spills or any problems that you see in the waterways – call 311 or download and use the FREE “Baltimore 311″ app.
- Get involved and volunteer in local beach clean-up efforts.
- When boating, use an approved marina pump-out station for boat waste disposal.