Every year since 2002, the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) has posted daily water-quality notices at two locations along its namesake river from June through October. If a blue flag is flying, fecal coliform levels are below the boating standard (good); a yellow flag means levels are above the standard (potentially bad). Last year, the Bladensburg Waterfront Park site violated the boating standard in 17 out of 37 tests, the downstream Anacostia Community Boathouse eight times.

But the AWS has decided not to resume its flagging program for the 2006 season, leaving river users to rely on their schnozzles to figure out what’s in the water. AWS President Robert Boone says the program was primarily intended to raise awareness of lawsuits the organization filed against the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Now that both lawsuits have been settled, the AWS will retire the flags and redirect its resources. “The personnel is limited,” says Boone. “And most people know that right after a rainstorm, it’s going to be funky.”

Christina Galligan, a 23-year-old rower with the Capital Rowing Club, isn’t too discomfited by the missing flags. The boats she rows don’t put her in much contact with the water, and she’s seen enough trash and dead fish in the river to know how dirty it is. “I just figured either someone wasn’t changing [the flag],” she says, “or [the water] was so bad they didn’t have a color for it.”