BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A new report released Thursday by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore shows that the water quality in Baltimore’s harbor is improving, and as a result, the non-profit is now working to boost on-the-water recreation.

“We’ve reached a tipping point in this city, in the harbor, where we have enough, more than enough good days in water quality that we can start promoting the harbor as a recreational resource,” said Adam Lindquist, Director of the Healthy Harbor Initiative for Waterfront Partnership.

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The annual “Harbor Heartbeat” reported that levels of harmful bacteria are declining in the water, with 92 percent of testing sites (with enough data) showing improving or consistently high scoring bacteria scores. The report noted that testing was limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lindquist said consistently improving bacteria scores was enough for the partnership to start plans for a new network of water-based trails.

“We’re actually announcing today the release of a request for proposals to create a master plan for the Baltimore Blue Way, a network of water trails for paddlers in the Baltimore Harbor,” he said.

The non-profit stated in its proposal that the vision for the water trail system is to follow the shoreline of the harbor and could extend from Canton Waterfront Park to the Inner Harbor and out to Masonville Cove.

“I think now since the water is getting cleaner and cleaner, the idea of different activities on the water for different groups of people that are more accessible is starting to become a real possibility,” said Valerie Bloom, a former intern for Waterfront Partnership who was paddling in the harbor after the announcement about the water trails.

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The report also noted that Baltimore City’s Headworks Project, which was completed last year, corrected a major flaw in its sewer system which caused tens of millions of gallons of sewage to overflow into streams and the harbor.

The project included installing tanks at a city wastewater treatment plant to store water that would overflow during storms. The study stated that continued monitoring is needed to show if the project is having the desired effect on the health of Baltimore’s marine ecosystem.

Another finding showed that the city’s four trash wheels have “ate” 1,608 tons of trash since the first one was installed in 2014 through 2020.

Waterfront Partnership also noted in the report that while water quality in the harbor frequently tests safe for swimming, it does not recommend swimming in it at this time.

“A swimming area must be monitored to protect swimmers from boat traffic, debris, toxic algal blooms, or legacy contaminants in the sediment. For these reasons, we do not recommend swimming outside of a designated swimming area. Waterfront Partnership has begun working on creating the first such swimming area in Baltimore City,” the report stated.

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The full 2021 Harbor Heartbeat report can be viewed here.

Stetson Miller