Op Ed: The Anacostia River Could Be Our Olympic Pride

By: James Foster, President

Rio Shoreline
Photo of the Rio shoreline 2016

The news coverage from the Olympics aquatic events is as bad as predicted – raw sewage flowing into Rio’s rivers and bays, shallows silted in with legacy industrial pollution, dead and dying fish floating by, athletes sickened by the fouled water. There was even a report that an Olympic kayaker capsized when his kayak hit a submerged sofa!

As we cheer on our athletes we should also be cheering on our own river, the Anacostia, which 25 years ago resembled the waters surrounding Rio, but today is well on its way to a stunning restoration to a swimmable and fishable river -- by Olympic athletes and everyday recreationists. We’re not there yet, but the pieces of the puzzle are in place:

  • D.C. Water’s deep tunnel project will begin coming online in 2017, and when fully operational in 2022 will divert 98% of the sewage and storm water that flushes into the Anacostia after every rainstorm;
  • Across the District of Columbia, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, green roofs, water absorbing parking lots, and other green infrastructure is taking hold, catching and filtering storm water rather than flushing it into the river at high volumes and high velocity;
  • The District of Columbia has just completed an extensive survey of the legacy toxics buried in the river bottom, and will soon begin working with the Navy Yard, Pepco, Washington Gas, the National Park Service and others to agree on a final remediation plan;
  • Anacostia Watershed Society and dozens of partners are replanting wetlands, restoring stream beds, introducing native species like shad, and bringing back the natural elements of a balanced ecosystem. 

And it’s working. Eagles, beavers, heron, egrets, fresh water mussels and many other species have returned to the river. As have humans – the sustainable redevelopment of National’s Stadium, Yards Park, the Wharf and many other sites have brought people back to the river providing essential momentum to finish the cleanup. The 11th Street Bridge Project will be the crown jewel, uniting the two sides of the river and creating an urban eco-park.

If we ever get the Olympics in Washington DC we can showcase this river to the world and all be proud of how we’ve restored our river – the Anacostia.

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