A large group of swimmers jumps in unison into open water.
Harbor Splash 2024 participants jump into the Baltimore Harbor at Bond Street Wharf in Fells Point in Baltimore on Sunday, June 23, 2024. The city has drastically reduced sewage reaching the Inner Harbor, enabling its first major swimming event in roughly four decades. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)

A historic milestone was reached on June 23, when the first swimming event since the 1980s took place in Baltimore Harbor. Harbor Splash allowed 150 participants to safely swim at Bond Street Wharf in Fells Point during a timely summer heatwave.

“Today demonstrates that a future in which Baltimoreans can swim and better enjoy the water is not only aspirational but it’s attainable,” said David Bramble, managing partner and co-founder of MCB Real Estate.

When registration for the Harbor Splash opened in May, the event sold out in just 10 minutes. Over 1,000 people were placed on the waiting list.

Most of the 150 registered participants had never swum in the harbor before. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)

Hosting the event was the Waterfront Partnership, a Baltimore nonprofit organization helping to restore the health of the Baltimore Harbor. Since the introduction of the Healthy Harbor Initiative in 2010, the partnership’s main goal has been to make the harbor swimmable and fishable.

“In 2023, we collected over 700 water samples and created the most comprehensive data set on bacteria in the Baltimore Harbor that anyone has ever seen,” said Adam Lindquist, vice president of the Waterfront Partnership, during the press conference before the event.

Using that data, the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore collected and continues to collect water samples from five sites in the Harbor five days a week (Monday to Friday). These samples are then analyzed at the ZooQuatic Lab using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Recreational Water Quality Criteria to determine if the water is safe for swimming.

Participants received a safety briefing and were confined to the Fells Point area. Staggered groups swam for 5 to 10 minutes each. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)
A large crowd of onlookers waits to cheer for the first wave of jumpers braving the water. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)

“Looking at that data made it very clear that if it had not rained, the Baltimore Harbor was meeting the Maryland standard for swimming beaches close to 100% of the time,” said Lindquist.

After investing over $1 billion in sewer infrastructure upgrades and passing key environmental laws, the city lowered sewage overflow by 97% between 2018 and 2022, according to the 2023 Healthy Harbor Report Card. Bans on plastic bags and foam containers, along with the city’s famous Trash Wheel Family resulted in over 450 tons of litter removed annually.

“It’s just a case of looking around and saying, we can do better, we deserve better, we as citizens, we as members of this community, deserve water and an environment that looks like this today, and from there, things just flow,” said Mike Hankin, co-founder of the Waterfront Partnership and president and CEO of Brown Advisory, during the press conference.

Supporters dance to hype up the crowd. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)
A couple takes a selfie after their dive. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)
The Waterfront Partnership and its vice president Adam Lindquist have worked to improve the water quality of the Inner Harbor since 2010. "Today I urge us all to reconsider our relationship with the Baltimore Harbor and acknowledge that things have changed,” Lindquist said. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)

While the Harbor Splash event was a huge milestone, the Waterfront Partnership also recognized the need for continued work to make the harbor swimmable year-round. Rainfall that washes pollutants into the water, toxic sediment at the bottom of the harbor and boating traffic are all hazards that keep swimming from being safe. In a recently released report card from Blue Water Baltimore, two monitoring stations near the Baltimore Harbor received failing grades for criteria including pH, temperature and fecal bacteria.

“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Be demanding, be demanding of each other, be demanding of the places where you work, businesses need to show up, be demanding of the government too, they are here to help us get this done,” said Hankin.

After the participants braved the water and made the leap, many celebrated their first swim in the Baltimore waterfront.

“It’s a beautiful day to swim in the harbor,” said Jen, a participant at the event. “I’ve been waiting for this day.”

High temperatures and several days of dry weather preceded the event. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, bottom right, and other officials take the plunge. (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)
A participant named Jen backstrokes after taking her first plunge in the Inner Harbor. “It’s a beautiful day to swim in the harbor," Jen said. "I’ve been waiting for this day.” (Photo by Rhiannon Johnston/Chesapeake Bay Program)

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Comments

Neil Davis

Wow amazing. When I was a kid we'd have never done that. The water was very unclean most of the time. I grew up in Canton. My grandmother used to tell us we'd get sucked into a drainpipe to keep us out lol.

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