Toward a New Day for the Anacostia River

The District is making progress on tackling two of the Anacostia River’s biggest pollution problems—legacy toxins and stormwater runoff. District Department of Environment (DDOE) Acting Director Keith Anderson underscored the importance of these initiatives at the agency’s oversight hearing before the D.C. Council on February 25.

Over the past century, toxic compounds from industrial activities, stormwater pollution, and sewers have accumulated in sediment at the bottom of the river. These legacy toxins poison fish and pose a health threat to as many as 17,000 people who eat fish from the Anacostia River each year.

Anderson reported that DDOE has started the process for cleaning up the Anacostia’s toxic sediment by launching a “remedial investigation and feasibility study.” This detailed study is required by federal law to evaluate the degree of contamination in the Anacostia’s sediment, and to identify options and costs for the clean-up. DC Appleseed recommended this approach as a way to accelerate the Anacostia River’s revitalization.

DDOE is also implementing new rules to reduce stormwater pollution. These rules will require developments to use green infrastructure like green roofs, rain gardens, and cisterns to retain stormwater on-site—reducing the amount of polluted stormwater entering the Anacostia River.

As we explained in our public comments on the draft rulemaking, the new rules will not only improve the Anacostia River’s health, but will also provide economic benefits to the District. Increased demand for green infrastructure will create new jobs and small business opportunities, and promote the District as a leader in sustainability. Anderson testified that rules will be finalized by July 2013, as required by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deadline.

These two novel approaches to reducing pollution in the Anacostia River can serve as a national model for revitalizing urban rivers with similar problems.

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