History of Advocacy

The public policy and advocacy program at AWS is responsible for campaigns, media correspondence, and other conferences to influence or change political policies and resource allocation on matters affecting the Anacostia River. Since the founding of the Anacostia Watershed Society in 1989, there have been many victories due to political advocacy.

Here are major AWS advocacy victories since 1989:

1989 Anacostia Watershed Society is founded
After two years of scoping studies, Anacostia Watershed Society is officially incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.


1988-1990 National Arboretum Clean Up
Robert Boone successfully advocates for the restoration of the Arboretum’s river front property. Previously, the National Zoo used the site for disposing of animal waste. The restoration resulted in a major cleanup and it is now the site of the Asia Garden and nature trail at the National Arboretum. The small valley links to a riverfront dock used by AWS and recreational boaters. 

1989-2011 Hickey Run Restoration
AWS alerted federal and local officials of hydrocarbons and antifreeze that had been draining from three large underground storage tanks into the Anacostia tributary at the National Arboretum for 16 years. The investigation led to an award-winning retrofit of the Metro Bus maintenance facility on Bladensburg Road, NE. The Hickey Run stream restoration is ongoing, with District Department of the Environment (DDOE) and Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) currently engaged in several projects.

1992-1997 Kingman Island Preservation
Formerly known as Children’s Island, AWS advocated against development of a commercial theme park on the island, in favor of preserving the island as green space for an environmental education center to serve the community.


1992-1993 Jack Kent Cooke
Proposed as a new stadium site, AWS and the Kingman Park Civic Association advocated renovation of the existing RFK stadium to prevent development on Kingman Island.

1996 Barney Circle Freeway
AWS blocked a proposal to build an expensive highway connection over the river to divert traffic over the inner city, saving Southeast DC from air and noise pollution, the river from further toxic and thermal pollutants, and the city from spending millions of dollars on unnecessary infrastructure.

1997-1999 Mystery Mountain
AWS alerted the public of illegal dumping of unregulated fill at Kenilworth Park by the Anacostia riverbank. Officials believe 400,000 cubic yards of construction debris and garbage was dumped in the park.


1995 Anacostia Community Boathouse
AWS was a founding member of the Anacostia Community Boathouse Association (ACBA), starting a new era of rowing on the Anacostia in an old industrial building under the 11th Street Bridge. Due to construction on the 11th Street Bridge, the thriving Anacostia Community Boathouse moved upstream temporarily. Now with nine member organizations, ACBA gives hundreds of rowers access to enjoy the Anacostia every day.

1996 Navy Yard Lawsuit
An AWS lawsuit against the U.S. Navy in 1996 for PCB (Polychlorinated biphenyls) resulted in an $18 million river cleanup.

1999 CSO Lawsuit
The outcome of an AWS legal win against WASA in 1999 to eliminate overflows in DC waterways reduced sewer overflows by 40% in 2008, and 98% indefinitely.

1998-2002 Bladensburg Waterfront Park
AWS worked with Bladensburg city and M-NCPPC officials as well as other area organizations to transform the Historic Port of Bladensburg into a paddlesport and rowing center. The park now benefits several schools, provides an environmental and paddling destination center for University of Maryland and the community, and acts as an economic boost for the Port Towns and the County.

2002 Current Wild Rice Restoration at Kingman Lake
AWS is reintroducing the native ecological keystone plants in several Anacostia tidal marshes in partnership with the Corps of Engineers with the emergent plant restoration program, which continues today. 

2004 CSO 006 Historic Anacostia
AWS is currently negotiating with WASA to use LID (low-impact development) technologies in a newly separated sewer in Historic Anacostia.

2005-2007 New Stadium
AWS advocated for legislative stipulations that the new sports stadium be designed according to LEED standards to minimize its environmental impact over the long term.



2006-2010  Montgomery County MS4 Permit
Over a period of several years, AWS worked with the Montgomery County Stormwater Partners to get a strong new federal Clean Water Act permit issued to Montgomery County. This permit is the first of a "new generation" of MS4 permits in Maryland and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has made a commitment that it will serve as the "floor" for all future permits. Key requirements include stormwater management retrofits for 20% of the county’s existing impervious surface.
2007 Maryland Stormwater Act
AWS worked in coalition with other environmental groups to pass a landmark stormwater management law.
2009 DC Bag Bill Passes
After an AWS study of trash in the river revealed the high prevalence of plastic bags in the river, DC Councilmember Tommy Wells crafted legislation to place a 5-cent fee on plastic bags with the goal of driving down their use in the District. Any proceeds from the bill are directed toward Anacostia River restoration efforts. The bill has been a huge success, with the first year of implementation seeing a 60% reduction in plastic bag use in DC while generating almost $2 million for river cleanup efforts.
2010 Montgomery County Stormwater Regulations
In July 2010 Montgomery County adopted strong new stormwater management regulations. Advocacy by AWS and its partners created an environment to allow Montgomery County DEP to take a strong stance on the regulations and prevent last minute rollbacks sought by the building industry. The regulations require management of the Channel Protection Volume (CPV), or 2.6" of stormwater runoff, on both new development and redevelopment projects.
2011 Invasive Plants Management Bill
In 2011 the Maryland General Assembly unanimously passed an invasive plant management bill that AWS had worked on for several years.  This bill provides a risk assessment methodology and assigns a committee to evaluate plants sold in the nursery trade. Tier 1 plants would be banned for sale in Maryland, and Tier 2 plants could only be sold with substantial warning signage.

2011 Prince George's County Stormwater Regulations
In July 2011 more than two years of campaigning came to fruition when Prince George's County adopted the second strongest local stormwater ordinance in Maryland (after Montgomery County, see above). The stormwater management standard will automatically increase over time, eventually reaching 1 inch, and incentives for developers will only kick in if developers exceed the standards in effect at the time.

2011 DC MS4 Permit Issued
Several years of work by AWS and its partners culminated in October 2011 with the release of DC's Clean Water Act MS4 permit (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System). These permits govern the separated storm sewer system that delivers polluted stormwater runoff directly to the Anacostia River. This is a model permit for the Chesapeake Bay region, featuring a 1.2" stormwater performance standard and many positive numerical requirements to implement green infrastructure measures such as green roofs and street trees.

2011 Motion to Intervene in Pepco Benning Road Consent Decree  
AWS, Anacostia Riverkeeper, and National Resources Defense Council filed a motion to intervene in the consent decree between DC and Pepco to investigate and clean up contamination at the Pepco Benning Road property. As a result of this the judge required the DC Department of Energy and the Environment and Pepco to report back in 18 months with the expectation that the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) would be completed by that time (moving the process along quickly) and all major documents produced during the RI/FS process be put out for public review and comment.

2012 Montgomery County Bag Bill Takes Effect
Effective January 1, 2012, Montgomery County has followed DC's lead and implemented a 5-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags, with revenues directed to the county's Water Quality Improvement Fund. This program expands on DC's effort, covering nearly all retailers.

2012 MD Watershed Protection and Restoration Programs 
Maryland General Assembly passed legislation requiring each of its 10 largest jurisdictions to establish a watershed protection and restoration program to ensure critical stormwater management practices are implemented. Two of those jurisdictions are Prince George’s and Montgomery counties which impact the Anacostia River. This creates a funding source for infrastructure repairs that will reduce flooding, and protect pipes, parks, plants and wildlife from stormwater damage.

2013 DC Council Funding for Anacostia Sediment Study
After struggling with continued delays to get known toxic sites cleaned up along the river, AWS advocated alongside DC Appleseed and other environmental groups for an estuary-wide Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study, the first step in the process to clean up toxics in the river bottom. This year the DC Council agreed funding would be provided for such a study to evaluate the degree of contamination and identify ways to clean it up.

2013 Prince George’s County Stormwater Utility Fee Passed
Funds generated will help reduce pollution in our rivers and streams through projects that clean up runoff from rooftops, sidewalks, driveways, roadways, and parking lots. As a member of the Healthy Communities Coalition, AWS successfully advocated for this fee in 2012.

2013 DC Water starts tunnel for Anacostia River segment
A result of legal action taken in 1999, boring for the stormwater sewage tunnels finally commenced. The 442 foot long boring machine called “Lady Bird” started its first segment of 13 miles by 26 feet wide under the Anacostia River. Upon project completion, CSOs to the Anacostia will be reduced by 98%.

2013 Pepco to Demolish Benning Road Power Plant
Pepco Energy Services announced plans to completely demolish the power plant that sits just off of Benning Road NE near the Anacostia River. This comes on the heels of the official closing of the plant in 2012. It has been a blight on and eye-sore for the local community and environment for decades.

2014 Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act
Many great environmental initiatives stem from this legislation. A ban on plastic foam food and beverage service containers will take effect in January 2016 and these materials must be replaced with recyclable or compostable products by 2017. DC also adopted an Environmental Literacy Plan that ensures that children will be educated in sustainability and prepared for a changing green economy. AWS worked on the development of the literacy plan since 2010.

2014 Deadline set for Anacostia Sediment Study
DC Council passed the Anacostia River Toxics Remediation Act of 2014. This requires the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) to adopt and publish a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study for the Sediment Study by June 2018. We and our fellow United for a Healthy Anacostia River (UHAR) coalition members firmly advocated for a deadline to be set because the ROD determines what needs to be done to clean up the toxic pollution as well as how much it will cost.

2015 Montgomery County Bans Plastic Foam Containers
In January 2016, the use of all polystyrene foam foodservice products and the sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging will be prohibited. Polystyrene is a material that is difficult to recycle and poses risks to humans and wildlife. We find these single-use products in our trash traps all too often and advocated for its prohibition in all three watershed jurisdictions.

2015 Improved Maryland Watershed Protection and Restoration Programs
After much controversy over the 2012 law, the Maryland General Assembly took action to give local jurisdictions flexibility in how they raise important pollution-reduction funds. The revised law does not require a fee be charged, but it ratchets up requirements that adequate funding be identified and progress be reported annually to the state and public and identifies penalties for jurisdictions with inadequate plans.

2015 Prince George’s County Passes Bans on Coal Tar Sealants and Plastic Foam
AWS led the advocacy movement in Prince George’s County to ban coal tar sealants and plastic foam containers. Coal tar sealants are high in PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) which run off surfaces into streams and harm aquatic plants and animals. Polystyrene (plastic) foam containers are piled up in landfills and break into tiny pieces that are eaten by and kill wildlife. The coal tar sealant ban took effect this July. The plastic foam ban will take effect in July 2016. With Prince George’s County being the final jurisdiction to ban foam and coal tar sealants it marks watershed-wide bans on these products.

2015 Cleanup at former Washington Gas East Station site
Activities to clean up contaminated soil at the Washington Gas site were finally finished after years of relentless advocacy. Investigation into the groundwater and nearby Anacostia River have begun as we continue to push for cleanup of legacy contamination that might have migrated off site.


Stay informed of the latest watershed issues by subscribing to our free email updates & event announcements.



Upcoming Events

Discovery Series


November 28

Read More