A Water Wheel That Sucks Up 50,000 Pounds Of River Trash Every Day

If Baltimore’s Inner Harbor looks cleaner than usual this summer, it may have something to do with a new “water wheel” positioned upriver. Turning with the water flow from Jones Falls, the trash-sucking machine funnels debris using two long booms and lifts it onto a wide conveyor belt. The refuse is then deposited in a dumpster on a separate platform.

The 50-foot-long wheel was designed by John Kellett and his company, Clearwater Mills, and could catch up to 50,000 pounds of debris a day. “The machine sits stationary in the mouth of the river,” Kellett says. “The wheel powers a conveyor, which lifts the trash from the river. It gets all its power from the wheel.”

Sometimes the waterwheel needs a little help, though. When the current isn’t going quickly enough, Kellett turns on solar-powered pumps below the wheel, which push up water and get it spinning again.

Kellett built a smaller prototype previously. The new version is bigger and more powerful, and better able to deal with heavier debris, he says. “This particular river has a lot of heavy debris that comes down with the trash. So, we needed more power and larger capacity dumpster. It’s stronger and more interesting looking, as well.”

That’s true. The wheel cost $750,000 altogether, with $500,000 of that contributed by the Maryland Port Administration. It could well be a suitable solution in many places in the world, if costs could fall a little.BS