River Cleanup | Sustainable | Natural

Sometimes a solution to a problem comes along that is simple and elegant and deserves to be promoted. This is one of those situations. The Inner Harbor of Baltimore, MD, is fed by the Jones Falls river watershed to the north. People carelessly leave trash on the ground and in the streets instead of in proper receptacles. When it rains, this trash is washed into the river and then into the Inner Harbor. It is ugly and unhealthy. Clean-up has been an ongoing chore for the city.

Since May 2014, the job of trash removal from the river has been made much easier with the use of a current-driven and solar-powered water wheel. Current flows from right to left. This perspective view shows two floating orange booms which guide the trash into the device. The device brings the trash up a conveyor and dumps it into a dumpster. If you are interested is seeing a screenshot of the 2014 trash totals by category, monthly precipitation, tonnage and volume, follow this link. The wheel continues to operate during the winter months.


Ziger/Snead | Baltimore | River current flow is right-to-left

The Jones Falls Watershed

The watershed in green directs water into the Jones Falls river and to the wheel at the harbor. View the Google Maps satellite image of the wheel.



Water Wheel Labeled Diagram


The Water Wheel In Action

Video by Adam Lindquist


32 thoughts on “River Cleanup | Sustainable | Natural

  1. Great invention, especially how it’s powered by the river itself. A significant proportion of the volume appears to be woody debris, needles etc – I wonder if that gets separated out later. Thanks for showcasing this ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, when I saw it I was laughing at how great it was. The spreadsheet shows a lot of various kinds of stuff are in there. I hope they get the needles etc out.


    • ‘…not creating the problems in the first place…’ So true so true. Did you check the cigarette butts count in the tally? It is in the hundreds of thousands each month.


  2. What an excellent example of how a small and clever effort can make a big difference.

    I still have memories of how things were before before Rachel Carson and before environmentalism was a publicly-recognized word. Streets and roads were filled with litter, lakes and streams were filthy, and there were cigarette butts all over public floors and sidewalks. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have a long way to go. The oceans are full of trash and the reefs are dying, imperiling the bottom of the food chain. I hope your post inspires more to support efforts like Baltimore’s.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Neat! I love elegant solutions. If only people would be even more elegant, and not litter in the first place.
    I know of a group that diligently works to keep the Des Plaines River clean, and their accounts of what they haul out is astonishing.
    On the other hand, I know of an old informal dump that was used decades ago…visiting that is like going to a museum. No plastic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Show this to the Des Plaines group. Maybe they will come up with a similar project.

      Dumps of the past are actually good archeological treasures. Our dumps today are hermetically sealed time machines.


    • Yes. I agree with you, Charlie. Too many just toss it and don’t give it a second thought.

      Sorry to be slow in response to your comment. It somehow got snagged by the spam filter. I just noticed it today.

      Please come again. Have a good day and weekend. btw…our son will be reporting to Seattle in the summer to fly C-17s out of McChord.


  4. That looks really promising. Of course as others have said it would be so much better if there wasn’t a need in the first place. I kind of wonder how much marine life accidentally gets caught up in that system — if any.


      • I like how they are trying a bunch of strategies including the floating wetlands and the converted pier. That’s pretty clever. I wasn’t able to find detailed information about what the wheel is catching. I wondered because I saw lots of wood and plant debris mixed in with the trash. The June entry of the link you gave says they collected almost 26 tons of material. Knowing that plastic is pretty lightweight I wonder what is making up the bulk of that weight and if there might be a next step needed to sort what goes into the dumpster.


      • Yes I did go there — that is what made me wonder. It isn’t a ledger — it doesn’t list everything they are picking up. I mean the wheel looks safe enough — it goes slowly and it isn’t scraping the bottom but in the absence of detailed information I was left to speculate. I hope I don’t sound critical of their efforts. I’m not feeling that way. I actually admire most of what they are doing. They are even attacking the problem from multiple solutions including possible litter and plastic reduction legislation. If they can avoid having to clean up the water in the first place that would obviously be better. The next priority would have to be the invisible pollutants that are far worse for living things. I do worry that if they clean up the visible mess then everyone will think the problem of water pollution is solved.


  5. That’s really a snazzy solution for places with significant current. I was trying to figure out where such a device could be placed around here, but I think it would be more practical up in Houston, where there are bayous, or perhaps west, where there are a few creeks.

    On the other hand, over the past twenty years, and the past ten years particularly, the amount of trash here has lessened significantly. In the marinas where I work, and where I live, there are “corners” that have been real trash-catchers. I used to see plastic bottles, styrofoam, and such. Today, it’s very uncommon. With a heavy rain, everything fills up with hydrilla washed downstream, and in the summertime, when the oxygen levels drop, it’s fish kills that are the problem. And now and then I’ll see a tennis ball, or a dog toy, or an orange floating by, but I suspect most of that stuff qualifies as accidents.

    I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a cigarette butt — anywhere. I can’t. Maybe I’m not hanging out in the right places. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • The wheel near Baltimore removes trash from a watershed in a largely urban setting. They get a lot of trash. It makes much sense to use the wheel concept in those areas. Wooded and agricultural…probably not so.

      We seem to have a better awareness here of the people to not toss trash. There is less than before. I’m glad for that.


  6. Here’s an amazing bit of serendipity that popped up in today’s email. This story about a Texas river steamboat has a sad conclusion, but I couldn’t help but think about the similarities between the effect of the paddlewheel and your water wheel.


    • That was a tragic story. Hay was a dangerous cargo for those boats. Bad choice to keep the paddle wheels going. I expect most people would have been ok in 3 ft of water unless there was a strong current.

      Thanks for the link.


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