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Back River Watershed

Watershed Management Program
Phone: 410-887-5683


Small graphic image of a map highlighting the Back River Watershed area.

Back River watershed encompasses 73 miles of streams located in urban and suburban portions of southeastern Baltimore County and includes the northeastern quadrant of Baltimore City. Approximately two-thirds of the watershed is located within Baltimore County and includes the stream systems of Herring Run, Red House Run and Stemmers Run. The watershed is mostly comprised of older, established communities including Rosedale, Overlea, Parkville, Stoneleigh, Loch Raven Village and portions of Essex.

It is home to numerous marinas and County waterfront parks, including Cox’s Point Park and Rocky Point Park that feature public picnic areas, boat ramps and fishing piers. It is also home to Rocky Point Golf Course and the historic Ballestone Manor House featuring seasonal exhibits, Civil War reenactments, and displays of Early American Art. Also located in this watershed is the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant that treats 180 million gallons of sewage each day for 1.3 million residents of Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

The watershed is currently 70 percent built-out and much of the existing development occurred in the 60s and 70s. Because this development predates current stormwater management regulations, there are limited opportunities for stormwater management controls. Through the Baltimore County Waterway Improvement Program, many water quality retrofit, shoreline enhancement and stream restoration projects have been implemented and many more are planned. In addition, the County monitors the need for maintenance dredging in the tributaries of Back River.

Baltimore County has collaborated with the Back River Restoration Committee on a debris removal "trash boom" to capture floatable debris and remove it from the waterway. The boom spans the mouth of Moores Run, a tributary that includes Herring Run and Redhouse Run streams, and accounts for a large portion of the watershed. This project continues to exceed expectations, with its reductions to the vast amounts of trash and debris that travels down our streams.

Small Watershed Action Plan

A Small Watershed Action Plan (SWAP) identifies strategies to bring a small watershed into compliance with water quality criteria. Strategies go beyond traditional government capital projects and include actions in partnership with local watershed associations, citizen awareness campaigns and volunteer activities. Find out more about the development of a SWAP, and how you can get involved.

  • SWAP fact sheet (PDF) describes strategies and actions that could become part of the SWAP report.

Tidal Back River SWAP

  • Volume 1 (PDF) outlines the actions identified as part of the strategy
  • Volume 2 (PDF) contains the results of the field and GIS data assessments

Upper Back River SWAP

  • Volume 1 (PDF) outlines the actions identified as part of the strategy
  • Volume 2 (PDF) contains the results of the field and GIS data assessments

Watershed Management Plan

The Back River Watershed Management Plan was completed in January of 1997. The executive summary includes a discussion of the water quality problems and sources of pollution. Strategies for improving the water quality in the watershed are provided, including estimated costs. Download the executive summary (PDF).

Lower Back River Neck Ecological Study

An ecological resource study of the Lower Back River Neck peninsula is available. The study includes assessments of the plant community, wetlands, wildlife, shoreline, and stream conditions. This study is part of the Back River Neck Rural Legacy program and selected sections may be downloaded. The full report is available in local libraries.

Volunteer Activities

To participate in watershed activities, contact your local watershed association. For the Tidal Back River watershed, contact the Back River Restoration Committee or the Friends of Bread and Cheese Creek. For the portions upstream, contact Blue Water Baltimore or the Maryland Waterways Foundation.

Revised May 26, 2021         


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