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Fighting For the Falls: Talking Trash

Credit John Lee
Trash making its way down Roland Run, a tributary of the Jones Falls.

  When Barbara Johnson, a water quality scientist with Blue Water Baltimore, makes her way down the Jones Falls for her monthly water quality check, she doesn’t see much in the way of trash. That is until she checks Roland Run, a tributary of the Jones Falls, just north of Lake Roland. 


“You see your plastic bottles, plastic bags, and styrofoam,” Johnson said.




They are stuck on fallen trees and debris that have made a log jam for the trash, just below a bridge on Circle Road. It’s fairly rural. But Roland Run snakes its way south from Lutherville and Timonium, which is likely where a lot of the trash is coming from.


“Anything that you see that goes into a storm drain empties into the streams,” Johnson said. “We have a saying where we say, ‘Our streets are our streams,’ and it kind of is.


Any litter in the watershed eventually will make its way to the Falls, which is the Inner Harbor’s largest tributary. 


Each year, tons of trash makes its way down the Jones Falls to the Inner Harbor. But before the Falls empties its trash into the Harbor, there is a line of defense. 


Mr. Trash Wheel is stationed at the mouth of the Jones Falls, between the Marriott and Pier 6. It runs on solar and hydro power. Booms funnel the trash from the Jones Falls into Mr. Trash Wheel’s “mouth.” He scoops it up with rakes and a conveyor belt, and sticks it in a dumpster. He’s famous for his googly eyes and regular tweets and you can check out his webcam.


Adam Lindquist, director of the Healthy Harbor Initiative for Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore which operates the trash wheel, said Mr. Trash Wheel has collected more than 1,000 tons of trash and debris from the falls in the last four years.


“People come to Mr. Trash Wheel because he’s funny and silly and gross,” Lindquist said. “But while they’re enjoying him as an entertainment personality, they’re also learning about the environment and thinking about their own actions and what they could do to clean up the Baltimore harbor and the Jones Falls.”


And here are some of the things you can do. Use trash cans, for crying out loud, not the sidewalk or the gutter. 


To help with flooding, create a rain garden on your property. The rain stays in your yard and soaks into the ground, rather than runs off. Trees suck up water. Trees anywhere in the watershed help, so plant a tree or two. 


As for pollution, when you wash your car, do it on grass so the sudsy water soaks into the ground, rather than runs down the storm drain. And don’t use flushable wipes or pour cooking grease down the drain. They just clog up the system.


Environmentalists are pushing for a swimmable, fishable Inner Harbor in two years, once the city’s main sewage overflows are eliminated. 


That may be a bit optimistic, but for it to happen at all, University of Baltimore environmental science professor Stan Kemp says the Jones Falls is the key.


“You can’t have a clean Inner Harbor without a clean Jones Falls,” Kemp said.


A clean Jones Falls from Owings Mills, to Lake Roland, to downtown.


John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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