Cleaning up Baltimore’s Inner Harbor with Old (and New) Technology

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By Neil Saunders

In Baltimore’s Inner Harbor an ancient technology is being used to clear trash and debris from its waters: the water wheel. Situated where the Jones Falls River meets the Inner Harbor, the water wheel uses a combination of hydropower and solar power to scoop up cigarette butts, plastic bottles, Styrofoam, and other floating trash flowing down the Jones Fall River. The wheel, created through the Healthy Harbor Initiative, has proved remarkably effective, removing over 200 tons of trash since May 2014.

This water wheel shows how even simple, small-scale projects, when successfully implemented, can achieve positive results in the Bay. Relying on hydropower from the river’s current, and solar power from panels attached on top of the structure when the current is slow, the water wheel combines a millennia-old technology with a newer, fast-evolving technology to remove trash and debris entering the Inner Harbor and ultimately the Bay. The water wheel powers a conveyor belt, which collects the debris into a floating dumpster. When the current is moving quickly after a storm, the dumpster can fill in a couple of hours.

The water wheel has proved so successful that plans to add more water wheels throughout the Bay are under way.

The water wheel was built by Clearwater Mills, LLC and owned by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. Trash collected is then removed handled by the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works.

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For a news video feature on the water wheel, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkQbcrzyAeE.

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