Water wheel, street sweeping credited with the removal of more than 1k tons of trash in Baltimore

It sits right at the water's edge, where the Jones Falls empties into the Inner Harbor.

The alien-looking contraption is becoming its own attraction in Baltimore with plenty of on-lookers and even its own fake twitter handle, but the water wheel is catching much more than just eyes.

"We pick up a little bit of everything.  Leaves, sticks, Styrofoam…"

Plastic bottles, cigarette butts and even a stray Adidas flip-flop…

If it ends up in or near a city storm drain along the Jones Falls, it will likely come out to the Inner Harbor after a big rain. It’s a trash stream co-creator of the water wheel Daniel Chase has always felt could be headed off at the pass.

"I have a sail boat, I've been sailing all my life. I came to Baltimore 18 years ago and was greeted by a pile of trash and took a left up into the river. I was told that nothing more can be done other than what was already being done. We found out we could do more and we've been trying to get it done. So far so good," Chase said.

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The “so far” has been almost two months.

The “so good” is more than 50 tons of trash cut off by the water wheel before it floats out into the harbor.

Chase and his partner at Clearwater Mills installed the solar and hydro-powered conveyer belt to cut down on the mine fields of harbor trash very common after a storm.

The Waterfront Partnership helped dock the contraption. It is a simple concept placed at the perfect spot that President Laurie Schwartz says already exceeded expectations.

"It has actually been very successful in capturing debris and keeping it away from our primary tourist areas and removing a major pollutant from the Patapsco and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay."

But to make a bigger impact, you have suck up the problem at the source.

"By cleaning all the streets, you are saving yourself a lot of headaches down the line as well," Department of Public Works spokesperson Kurt Kocher said.

In April, DPW expanded its street sweeping service from just 30 percent of Baltimore's roadways to now every neighborhood.

The city says it took its existing $32 million budget and 36 trucks and applied them to an odd/even day schedule while breaking the city up into quadrants.

It takes the department one month to make a full pass, but already the department reports it’s swept almost eight thousand additional miles, picking up about an extra thousand tons of trash.

"You are talking about that amount of tonnage OK, that tonnage would have gone into the storm drains eventually, a lot of it all at once and then into the bay.  So think about that. That is how much we prevent it from getting into the bay," Kocher said.

DPW says the routine sweeping is already resulting in less trash being picked up from month-to-month.

It is a trend the department hopes continues as more residents get used to the schedule and allow the sweepers to pass by parking on alternate sides of the street.

But whether it is on our streets or standing guard at the mouth of the Jones Falls, officials remind citizens the biggest impact on preventing trash in our waterways will always be you.

"It takes everybody, not just city government, not just Waterfront Partnership,” Schwartz said.

DPW says its street sweeping budget remains the same as before the expansion, the department is just better utilizing people and equipment.

The water wheel cost $800,000 to build and $100 to $150 thousand a year to operate. Money to fund the project is made available via a combination of public and private funds.

The water wheel is becoming a big headline with a million hits on YouTube as well as some stories in the national media.

Together, the water wheel and the expanded street sweeping program have picked up just more than one thousand extra tons of trash off Baltimore’s streets and waterways.

 

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