Improving water, improving lives

Add water pollution to the list of ills suffered by under-served urban communities. Economically-depressed neighborhoods are hotspots for water contamination due to aging sewer and storm-water systems. Optimistically, a new study suggests that water cleaning and community greening can go hand-in-hand.


Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies’ scientist Dr. Steward Pickett is Director of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and a co-author of the new work.

“There is a strong relationship between the ecological and social revitalization of urban watersheds.”

The paper looked at the Watershed 263 Project, which focuses on improving conditions in a 930-acre urban watershed in Baltimore characterized by leaky sewers, lack of green space, and an excess of hardened surfaces, such as abandoned industrial complexes and parking lots. Hard surfaces are tied nutrient-rich runoff, which ultimately pollutes the Baltimore Harbor.

The project ‘softened’ the watershed, which is home to 27,00 residents, through above-ground improvement strategies—such as reclaiming green spaces, planting trees, and installing vegetated areas that capture runoff.

“What we found in Watershed 263 is that together, ecologists, city planners, social organizers, and citizens can address a community problem. The revitalization of urban watersheds and urban neighborhoods can go hand in hand, with benefits flowing in both directions.”

Residents are surely benefiting from the new public parks, greener school yards, and more opportunities to interact with nature. And results suggest above-ground greening is also reducing the amount of nutrient pollution delivered to the Chesapeake Bay.


Produced in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, this podcast originally aired on April 9, 2013. To access a full archive of Earth Wise podcasts, visit:

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