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The Anacostia River’s first report card comes out tomorrow. Here’s a preview: The river earned a big, fat “FAIL” in more than one area.
Sure, it’s common knowledge that the Anacostia is in bad shape. But the report—a joint effort between the Anacostia Watershed Society and the office of the Anacostia Riverkeeper that will be repeated yearly from now on—makes it clear just how unhealthy the river actually is.
The report contains a Water Quality Report Card and a Political Report Card. The former rates dissolved oxygen, fecal bacteria, water clarity, and chlorophyll in three separate portions of the river (Maryland and upper and lower D.C.); the latter, whether or not jurisdictions surrounding the river are making good strides in environmental policy. (Though a political report card that included a section on fecal bacteria might not be a bad idea.)
Some highlights: Montgomery County has stormwater regulations and has clearly stated an improved Anacostia River is desirable, but Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland do not have stable stormwater ordinances and have not expressed interest in cleaning up the river. D.C. has passed the bag tax, but has stalled on cleaning up known toxic sites like Poplar Point. It’ll take 4,063 years for water clarity to improve in the upper D.C. portion of the Anacostia, and 55 for fecal bacteria to no longer be in issue in the Maryland portion.
The grades were based on attainment of D.C.’s legal water quality standards and, to be fair, they could be worse. All metrics of water quality standards are improving in all three sections of the river, with the exception of water clarity in the lower D.C. section of the river.
One of the primary goals of the report card is to nudge forward policy decisions that could have a substantial impact on the river’s health. “If DC and Prince George’s take strong steps forward on their Clean Water Act permits and stormwater control ordinances we could see some really meaningful progress with our biggest problem over the next 10-20 years,” writes Brent Bolin, AWS’ director of advocacy, in an email.
In particular, the District Department of the Environment needs to step it up. The agency has pushed for local control of river cleanups and testified that they plan to have a strong public opinion process for those cleanups. However, DDOE has done little community outreach to ANC commissioners, neighborhood email lists, or civic associations, and it’s a relatively young agency whose resources might seem like an easy cut during a budget crisis.
This is the first time an Anacostia-specific report card has been released, but the Annapolis, Md.-based Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been doing something similar since 1998. Beth McGee, that organization’s senior water quality scientist, says that the State of the Bay report is “a useful communication tool to highlight the reasons that we love the bay and the main problems that are facing the bay in a way that is understandable”; CBF’s report garners year-round attention.
And it’s AWS’ intent that their report card do the same. “I can’t wait to see how some of our local government officials react to the political report card,” says Bolin, who believes the Gray administration does understand the river and its issues. “I’ll be carrying copies of this around with me until I run out of them. People really need to understand what we’re dealing with.”
The report card will be officially released tomorrow afternoon at Bladensburg Waterfront Park, following 2000-volunteer strong effort to clean up specific sites along the Anacostia River.
Photo by Alex Baca. Illustration courtesy of the Anacostia Watershed Society.