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Gray, Partners Shape Anacostia River's Rebirth

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/27/2014, 3 p.m.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (center) signs the "Sustainable DC Omnibus Act of 2014" into law on the banks of the Anacostia River on July 29 as several city Council members and officials look on. Photo by Roy Lewis

When Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed the “Sustainable DC Omnibus Act of 2014” into law, among a number of things, it also marked the official kick off a multi-year, multifaceted plan to clean up the Anacostia River.

The eight-mile waterway, which runs from Bladensburg, Maryland, into the District, is now laden with sediment, trash, sewage, pathogens, toxic chemicals, stormwater runoff and other pollutants. By 2032, Gray said, he anticipates that the Anacostia will be fishable and swimmable.

“I think we all know that the river is more than just water. It’s a resource to support our life,” said Gray during a July 29 signing ceremony at the Anacostia Community Boathouse in Southeast. “We knew this was once a place where people swam and fished. Now, our residents are advised against swimming. While there have been many attempts in the past, I’m encouraged.”

Once a thriving body of water supporting a variety of fish and other wildlife, over the past century advocates say, the Anacostia has been severely neglected by Congress, local elected officials and residents. The Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) rates the Anacostia an ‘F’ for water quality and the Natural Resources Defense Council has described the river as the poster child for America's tragically neglected, abused urban waterways.

But with the prospective measures being prepared to clean up the river, Gray and others are optimistic and hopeful.

Gray said former Mayor Anthony A. Williams accepted his offer to serve as honorary chair of an advisory council comprised of government officials, environmental advocates and community leaders. Williams, CEO of the Federal City Council, said the organization is ready to join forces with a range of partners to effect the cleanup.

The Federal City Council, Williams said, hopes to use its influence to push and sustain lost momentum for comprehensive revitalization of the river area.

“We’re pleased to have received a grant to clean up the Anacostia and continue efforts to remove stormwater,” said Williams during a recent interview. “We’re beginning an effort to remove pervasive toxins at the bottom of the river. We want to create along the river, an inclusive area for people of all neighborhoods and backgrounds. We want to sustain and continue the development of parkland and open spaces.”

Williams said he envisions areas around the river populated with the right balance of sustained development and preservation, economic activity, mix-use services and housing.

The AWS, in coordination with District Department of the Environment and Tetra Tech, hosted a boat tour along the Anacostia River after the signing to demonstrate how a sediment sample is taken, logged, and placed in a container for lab analysis for the project.The Anacostia River study area consists of the tidal portion of the river from the northwest branch and the northeast branch confluence in Prince George’s County to the Potomac River.

AWS counts as one of the major players which in addition to engaging in activities to assist in cleanup, helps keep public focus on transforming the river. The nonprofit is part of a network of regional and business, civil society, local and federal partners and it works with all stakeholders, especially the city, federal government and the State of Maryland, to transform the river.