The Wheels Are Turning In Baltimore Harbor

Baltimore Harbor has been one of the mainstays of the city for over three hundred years. As a center for shipbuilding, fishing, shipping and now tourism, it is essential to the city’s well-being. Unfortunately, it is also heavily polluted. The Baltimore Water Wheel is changing that, however, using the power of flowing water, sunshine and innovative technology to clean up the garbage choking up the water and marine life.

City officials aim to make the harbor safe for swimming by 2020. A vital part of the clean up project is the Baltimore Water Wheel, officially name is Water Wheel Powered Trash Interceptor. Designed by by Clearwater Mills, LLC of Baltimore, MD, it uses water and solar power to lift garbage out of the water. It picks up garbage bags, polystyrene dishes, cigarette butts, sports balls, chip bags, and plastic and glass bottles.

The best description of the Water Wheel’s appearance comes from its inventor, John Kellett, “”It looks sort of like a cross between a spaceship and a covered wagon and an old mill. It’s pretty unique in its look, but it’s also doing a really good job getting this trash out of the water.”

Until the Water Wheel went into action, floating trash was a highly visible – and smelly – irritant to efforts to develop the Inner Harbor for mixed use and tourism. The source of the garbage is trash that goes from the streets into storm drains that run into the Jones Falls river, which flows into the harbor. Previous efforts to pick up the trash using nets were slow and inefficient.

The Water Wheel uses the current of the river water to turn the wheel, which carries garbage onto a collection dumpster barge. There is also a solar panel to power the wheel when the river current is too slow. Since its installation in 2014, the Baltimore Water Wheel has picked up more than 150 tons of trash. The trash is incinerated to produce electricity.

As with all cleanup projects, the solution also requires turning off the source of the pollution – the free-floating trash and ubiquitous plastic bags and bottles. But for now, specially for those who have fond memories of a visit to the Harbor and the fabulous seafood, the Baltimore Water Wheel is welcome news.