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Baseline Conditions Report

The Baltimore Harbor is located on the Patapsco River, which consistently receives very low grades on the annual Chesapeake Bay Report Card.

The State of Baltimore’s Harbor report describes the current health of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and its surrounding tributaries. Produced by EcoCheck, a partnership between NOAA and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, this assessment will help establish an understanding of the factors that impact the water’s health, allowing us to better target solutions and provide guidance for future monitoring.

Defining the Watershed

The report uses samples from the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch waters, and the Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls, and Direct Harbor tributaries. These regions make up a watershed, a geographical area that all drains to the same waterway. The Jones Falls drains to the Harbor by Pier 6, the Gwynns Falls drains to the Middle Branch, and the Direct Harbor drains via runoff and storm drains to both the Inner Harbor and Middle Branch. The Patapsco River feeds the Inner Harbor, which is a mixture of both salt and freshwater.

 (56 pages, 16.8 mb)   (2 pages, 1.3 mb)


The Harbor received an overall poor score, reflecting the poor health of our Harbor waters. Through this study process we also found a need to improve the amount and accuracy of monitoring data so that we can become better informed of conditions as we move forward. The tributaries scored moderately for the health of their waters, but still struggle with degraded human health.

Indicator Grade Description
  Harbor Tributaries  
Dissolved Oxygen Poor Good Essential for aquatic organisms
Chlorophyll a Moderately Poor n/a Depends on the amount of phytoplankton in the water, which increases at high nutrient levels
Water Clarity Moderately Poor n/a Amount of debris and colored organic matter suspended in water
Conductivity n/a Moderate to Very Poor Amount of electrical current the water can conduct, dependent on the amount of nutrients
Total Nitrogen Very Poor Moderate Discharge from power plants, agriculture, septic systems, sewer overflows, and stormwater runoff elevate nitrogen levels
Total Phosphorus Very Poor Moderate Found in fertilizers, manure, and organic wastes
Benthic Community Very Poor n/a Aquatic organisms that live on the bottom of waterways
Toxicants Very Poor Very Poor Heavy metals and organic contaminants found in sediment. Toxicants build up in fish tissues
Water temperature Good Good Affects the health of benthic communities and fish
pH Good Good Measures the acidity of streams and affects the health of aquatic organisms
Bacteria Poor Poor Seriously impacts human health. Enters the water from animal feces and human waste leaking from broken sewer pipes
Trash Very Poor Very Poor Washes into the storm drain system and leaches chemicals

This chart is a brief summary of the report and should not be used as a substitute for the scientific data found within the report.

Download the State of the Harbor Report
Download the Executive Summary