Browsing articles tagged with " Anacostia River"

Fixing Anacostia Pollution Won’t Be Quick

A young Eastern painted turtle, covered in algae, basks on some driftwood while a discarded spray paint can floats nearby in the Anacostia River.

A young Eastern painted turtle, covered in algae, basks on some driftwood while a discarded spray paint can floats nearby in the Anacostia River. (News21 photo by Jason Lenhart)

WASHINGTON – Renovations to the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant — needed to help shore up an antiquated sewer system in the nation’s capital — are a year ahead of schedule, with completion expected in 2014, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty says.

But even with the updates, controlling raw sewage runoff into the Anacostia River during heavy rains may remain an issue until at least 2018, say the District’s water and sewer authority and environmental advocates.

The long-standing problem: There isn’t enough space in combined sewage and stormwater pipes to effectively transport untreated runoff to the Blue Plains plant.

“When those pipes reach capacity, overflow valves flip over,” says Brent Bolin, director of advocacy for the Anacostia Watershed Society. “Essentially, raw sewage is discharged into the Anacostia River.”

Urban development in the Anacostia watershed has exacerbated the problem, he says. “As D.C. gets more and more built out, there’s more and more impervious surface and more and more runoff.”

The long-term solution, Bolin says, is to dig an eight-mile long tunnel that will capture and store excess storm water until it can be processed at Blue Plains. The Metrorail-sized tube will run from near RFK Memorial Stadium to Blue Plains.

“We applaud that they’re addressing the problem,” Bolin says. “But it’s a big engineering fix. It’s going to be a process to get through it.”

Currently, when overflows occur, thousands of gallons of polluted stormwater flood the river, exacerbating poor conditions of a river already deemed unsafe for swimming or fishing. (See map of overflow points.)

The overflows occur as many as 80 times a year, D.C. Water officials say. Their frequency is estimated using a model based on the amount of rainfall in a given year.

The renovation and tunnel fixes could reduce the number of combined sewer overflows to two a year, D.C. Water officials say. Reaching zero would make the cost of the project “magnitudes higher” than the current $2.5 billion price tag, according to analyses by D.C. Water and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The move to stifle sewage overflow events has been going on for more than 50 years, but the history of the sewer system goes back more than a century. In the late 1800s, Washington’s combined sewer system was considered to represent the best engineering standards available.

Fenty acknowledged after a meeting this month with the governors of Maryland and Virginia and environmental leaders that oversight could be better. “In the history of our city, our great nation’s capital, we haven’t always protected the rivers,” he said.

D.C. Water’s wide-ranging, $2.5 billion program includes constructing runoff tunnels to alleviate pressure on the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and Rock Creek.

“Right now, the grid is overwhelmed,” Bolin says. “There are two things you can do: You can give an outlet to the grid, or you can prevent the inputs.”

Source controls such as increased street sweeping, adding catch basins, and promoting low-impact development and green roofs could help alleviate the stress on the combined sewer, Bolin says.

–by Justin Karp


All Signs Point to the Anacostia

By Justin Karp  //  Bay Education, Cleanup, environmentalism  //  59 Comments

News21 photo by Justin Karp

Signs like the one above, which dot storm drains throughout the portion of Prince George’s County that lies in the Anacostia River watershed, are part of the county’s efforts to curtail pollution and dumping.

Samuel Moki, associate director of the Environmental Services Division of the Prince George’s County Department of Environmental Resources, says simple steps such as installing these street signs go a long way toward educating the public on how they can help to restore the Anacostia.

Moki says the billion-dollar, multi-agency and multi-state Anacostia restoration effort is cleaning up what has been one of the most polluted and neglected watersheds in the United States.

–by Justin Karp


Suburbanites Disconnected from Impact on Anacostia

WASHINGTON – The stream that runs behind the houses in Salil Kharkar’s Silver Spring neighborhood impacts the quality of the water in the Anacostia River, just downstream.

The problem is that others on the block might not know that.

“There are strong communities that want to protect their own watersheds,” says Kharkar, a wastewater treatment engineer for D.C. Water.

But, he says, they’re unaware their watershed is the Anacostia’s.

The Anacostia River watershed extends for 176 square miles across Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Washington, D.C. — but only 38 square miles lie in the city itself. The rest encompasses dozens of streams, creeks and branches that extend north into suburban Maryland.

A substantial amount of the multi-million dollar Anacostia cleanup focuses on the 6.8 miles of river that flow through the nation’s capital. But Kharkar and others believe that real progress can’t be made until residents of the watershed living outside the city are educated about the impact of their actions.

“People outside the environmental community are really buying into a future where the Anacostia River is an amenity to the community,” says Brent Bolin, director of advocacy for the Anacostia Watershed Society. But, he says, to get there, more awareness is needed.

While trash buildup and stormwater runoff from streets and parking lots remain the two biggest pollution problems plaguing the river, sediment and nitrogen runoff from upstream sources, such as Sligo Creek, the Northeast and Northwest branches and other Maryland streams, flow unchecked into the Anacostia.

“It’s sort of just letting people know that simple things they can do really make a difference,” Bolin says. “People don’t want to do the wrong thing. They just don’t know what the right thing is.”

He says steps as simple as properly disposing of grass clippings and other yard waste instead of dumping them into streams and creeks can go a long way toward reducing the amount of toxic nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous, that plague the watershed.

Carlton Ray, who administers a long-term control plan for D.C. Water, says that environmental stewardship is not at the top of the minds of many watershed residents.

“People are struggling to put macaroni and cheese on the table and are busy rushing their kids to soccer practice,” he says. “It doesn’t leave much time for them to ask, ‘What’s this thing about the watershed?’ ”

The long-term control plan is the utility’s effort to significantly reduce the amount of untreated sewage overflow entering the Anacostia from point sources during heavy rains. But both he and Kharkar agree this overflow is only part of the pollution problem in the Anacostia and that additional cleanup efforts from outside the city’s boundaries are vital.

“It’s something that needs to continue to be nurtured,” Ray says.

Ken Yetman, division chief for watershed assessment for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, says it doesn’t help that the District sees a disproportionate benefit from a clean river.

“There [are] billions of dollars being invested in new real estate down there along the Anacostia,” he says. “A healthier river will increase property value and will be a greater asset to the District.”

But ultimately, Yetman said, if suburbanites take care of their local streams, “it benefits those downstream. … The cumulative effect is that they care about the [Anacostia] river.”

–by Justin Karp


EPA, Local Governments Propose Anacostia Dumping Limits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the District of Columbia and Maryland, is imposing a new, lower Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) on the Anacostia River, the agency announced Friday.

Facing increasing trash, runoff and pollution levels throughout the Anacostia watershed, the District and the state are working with the EPA to enact the new TMDL.

The Anacostia will be only the second river in the country and the first in the Mid-Atlantic with a trash dumping limit. The Los Angeles River, which runs from the San Fernando Valley to the Pacific Ocean near Long Beach in Southern California, is the other.

A draft copy of the new Anacostia TMDL cites several ways that trash buildup will be reduced, including:

  • new storm drain capturing technology
  • curtailing of illicit dumping
  • regulation of trash removal and prevention

The EPA made this announcement only four days after the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Project released a $1.7 billion plan to clean up the river, its branches and the wetlands surrounding it.

About 60 of the over 700 projects the plan outlined involved trash regulation and collection along the banks of the river and its offshoot waterways, which extend into Montgomery and Prince George’s County.


Anacostia Cleanup Begins in Earnest

Less than a week after the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Project announced a $1.7 billion effort to restore and clean up the trash-strewn, polluted river, the Anacostia Watershed Society began the effort with a bang.

In one of many events throughout the National Capital region to mark the 40th Earth Day, the AWS held a large river cleanup at nearly 30 sites throughout the Anacostia watershed, which reaches from the District to Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Cleanup sites stretched from as far north as Aspen Hill and Colesville to the banks of the Anacostia directly across the river from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Cleanup organizers told WTOP Radio that Anacostia Park can still be one of the most vibrant and environmentally sound areas of Washington D.C., but trash and pollutants still line the banks of the river.

Watershed Society officials said nearly 60 tons of garbage were removed from the river in the latter half of 2009. They said that the D.C. bag tax has also already helped in cutting down the number of plastic shopping bags they’re finding in the park and along the water.

The Earth Day celebration and cleanup effort was the first major project taken by environmentalists since the AWRP released the multi-part plan to restore the heavily polluted river.

The plan calls for over 700 different projects including:

  • retrofitting stormwater runoff facilities
  • restoring streams
  • creating and restoring natural wetlands
  • fish blockage removal
  • reforestation
  • riparian renewal
  • trash reduction
  • parkland acquisition

AWRP worked with the governments of the District, Maryland, Virginia, the EPA and Prince George’s and Montgomery to produce the report and action plan.


Anacostia River: The Need to Clean

Like many of the rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, the Anacostia River is dirty. It is filled with litter, sewage, and a slew of chemicals that contaminate the waters. And according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, “The Anacostia River is the Washington, D.C. area’s greatest source of toxic pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.”

Officials have been working for the past two years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find a solution to make the river healthier. And on April 19, local and federal officials revealed a $1.7 billion dollar plan aimed at combatting the Anacostia’s problems.

The Anacostia River Watershed Restoration Plan lists more than 3,000 projects that could improve the ailing river. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told the Washington Post that much more needs to be done, but that, “Today, we’re taking, I think, a giant step forward for a new life for the Anacostia River.”

A major part of the plan includes putting the Anacostia on a “trash diet.” This move, O’Malley says, will make it the first river on the East Coast where the total amount of trash will be limited every day.

But none of the money needed to help restore the “forgotten river” has yet been budgeted, which leaves many to wonder if and when the plan will be implemented.


Stream Restoration: Essential to Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay

By Rabiah Alicia Burks  //  Stream Restoration, Uncategorized  //  35 Comments

If rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were healthy, they could help remove excess nutrients, which is considered a key component of restoring the bay  to health.  However, many of the bay’s rivers are not healthy and are themselves in need of restoration.

Dr. Margaret A. Palmer and J. David Allan, in an article published in the Winter 2006 journal of the National Academy of Science, defined river restoration as the repairing of waterways that can no longer perform their essential ecological and social functions, including:

1)   mitigating floods

2)   providing clean drinking water

3)   removing excess nutrients

4)   supporting fisheries and wildlife

Two additional benefits of  healthy streams are that they can increase property values and serve as a hub for recreation, Palmer and Allen said.

Their article, titled “Restoring Rivers,” reported that  more than one-third of river in the United States were impaired or polluted, including those running into the Chesapeake.  In 2005, scientists determined that the “dead zones”  covering nearly one-third of the Chesapeake Bay were a result of excess levels of nutrients and sediments from its rivers, Palmer and Allan reported.

How did the Chesapeake’s streams and rivers get so polluted? What happened to damage them so badly that they lost their ability to perform the essential ecological functions defined by Palmer and Allan?

Palmer and Allan provided multiple historical reasons. Below are a few:

1)   Population growth – people like to live and work near water, causing many industrial plants and cities to grow around them.

2)   Historically, the nation’s waterways have been a dumping ground for waste and raw sewage.

3)   Removal of trees and wetlands to make way for buildings and transportation.

4)   The building of dams.

5)   Paving of streams.


D.C.’s ‘Forgotten River’ To Enter New Stage of Restoration

The Anacostia River runs all of 8.4 miles from stem to tip.

Those 8.4 miles of water are among the dirtiest in the nation, yet flow mere miles from the U.S. Capitol Building.

Thanks to heavy runoff from the Washington Navy Yard, antiquated and aging sewer systems in the Near Southeast neighborhood of Washington and heavy amounts of raw sewage, the Anacostia is by far one of the most polluted bodies of water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

And, while D.C.’s other river, the Potomac, continues to see major and continued cleanup and maintenance efforts, the Anacostia has sat for years collecting trash and toxic pathogens. Though revitalization of the Anacostia’s waterfront neighborhoods has progressed, the river itself continues to languish.

Now, though, the mobilization begins.

On Monday, the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership, along with several local politicians, will unveil a new restoration plan for those 8.4 miles of river that snake through the east side of Washington.

Release of the plan comes in the wake of a Department of the Environment study showing that plastic shopping bags made up 21 percent of the trash in the Anacostia, a study that prompted the city to enact a five-cent bag tax to raise funds for cleanup efforts.

Over the next few weeks and into the summer, I’ll be taking a look at what activists, politicians and others are doing to restore these 8.4 miles of river. I’ll also be looking at efforts to revitalize the Southwest Waterfront area of D.C. as a bustling business and residential district , to see how that revitalization might affect efforts to clean up the Anacostia.


Saving the Bay One Disposable Bag at a Time

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Government, Pollution  //  33 Comments

Environmentally friendly shoppers face a dilemma when the grocery store clerk asks, “Paper or plastic?” Choose paper, and they’re cutting down trees. Choose plastic, and they’re clogging the landfills.

But Washington, D.C., has found a way to put those disposable bags to use in saving the Anacostia River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

Considering the city’s Department of the Environment found in a study that plastic bags make up 21 percent of trash in Anacostia – and 47 percent in its tributaries – that claim may seem impossible. How could the pesky pollutants ever help the river?

On Jan. 1, the District started charging a 5-cent bag tax on paper and plastic bags at stores that sell food or alcohol. The goal was not only to encourage the use of reusable bags but to protect and provide for the heavily polluted river that flows past Southeast Washington.

As a part of the D.C. Council’s Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009, the majority of the proceeds go to fund cleanup efforts. For each bag, 1-2 cents goes back to the businesses, while the rest is sent to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund, according to the Washington Post. The D.C. Department of the Environment will use the fund, which also receives money from other sources such as a new commemorative license plate, to clean the river and its tributaries as well as to provide citizens with reusable bags.

In the month of January alone, the tax already made almost $150,000, the Washington Post reported this week. And it also has resulted in a significant drop in disposable bag use, benefiting the river from two directions.

Washington has found a creative way to turn a negative but largely unchallenged part of life into a positive force for the city, the Anacostia and the Chesapeake. And shoppers still debating “paper or plastic” can breathe a little easier knowing they can still help save the bay.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here:
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr