Anacostia River (Courtesy of Jennifer Boyer via Wikimedia Commons)

The Bowser administration recently announced an important milestone regarding cleanup plans for the Anacostia River that will make it and two other bodies of water safer for the public and environmental health.

The plan, which is now available for public comment in the DC Register and on the project’s website at, focuses on soil cleanup at the bottom of the river.

“Our mission is to make the District the most sustainable city in the nation, and this includes ensuring we keep our environment healthy by eliminating contaminants from our waterways,” said Tommy Wells, director of D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment. “The completion of the proposed plan marks a significant step in restoring the Anacostia River to its former glory and making it safer for the public and wildlife.”

Four years ago, DOEE identified contamination in an Anacostia River Sediment Project study area that includes the nine-mile tidal portion of the Anacostia River, Kingman Lake, and Washington Channel. Elevated concentrations of contaminants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and pesticides from industrial, urban, and human activities are present in sediment throughout the river, posing a risk to aquatic wildlife and humans.

Working with a committed group of stakeholders, including the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River, DOEE has fully characterized contamination in the ARSP study area and has developed cleanup options described in the Proposed Plan.

Almost 4,000 environmental samples were collected and analyzed to develop the clean-up strategy that includes completing a number of companion studies, which determined surface water and groundwater impacts on the study area.

The ARSP is now available for public comment through Jan. 26, with the option of extending for another 30 days upon request.

With the complete proposed plan, current and future investments aimed at restoring the Anacostia River, residents can look to a future where they can safely swim and play in what was once a degraded urban waterway. This is in part due to many restoration and planning efforts led by many partners over decades:

• Smart Policy: DC’s 5-cent plastic bag fee (for 10 years) funds the Anacostia Clean Up and Protection Fund, as well as bans on foam food service ware containers and single-use plastic straws helps keep trash out of the river.

• Major Infrastructure: DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project is a $1.75 billion sewage diversion tunnel system that can hold 100 million gallons of stormwater during rain events in a 7.7-mile-long, 23-foot-wide tunnel. In its first 15 months of operation over 5.6 billion gallons of sewage has been diverted from the river!

• Less Litter: 9 “trash traps” capture trash and debris carried by stormwater from city streets before they enter the river. Dumpbusters expansion to 5&6D Environmental Crimes Unit, hot spots determined and monitored by solar cameras to bust and deter illegal dumping

• Citizen Science Monitoring: Volunteer water quality data collection at 22 sites in all 8 wards that helps DOEE track bacteria and sediment levels to expand recreation safety on the Anacostia, Potomac and Rock Creek for residents

• Mussel Restoration: Re-introducing 35,000 mussels into the river to increase water quality and promote diversity of native mussel species to sustainably clean waterways

• Anacostia River Pool Initiative: Studies the feasibility of creating a permanent swimming facility along the Anacostia waterfront

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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