The Anacostia River may not (yet!) be the most pristine urban waterway in America, but it’s on its way. Several government agencies are creating plans to clean it up, and many milestone projects and decisions are on track to be completed next year.

In years past, the degraded state of the river could be easily seen with visible evidence like islands of floating bottles, plastic bags and car tires. These days, however, the Anacostia River is looking cleaner and more beautiful. Efforts to remove trash and prevent it from ever reaching the river (for example, with technology like trash traps installed in tributary streams), has reduced the visible evidence of pollution.

Making Progress

Despite its beauty, the Anacostia River is still not fully restored. The Anacostia Watershed Society recently gave the river an “F” grade in its annual report on the river’s progress toward being swimmable and fishable. The primary sources of pollution are “fecal bacteria, toxics, trash, and uncontrolled stormwater.” While rainfall leads to an inundation of sediment, oils, chemicals and contaminants flowing from our city streets, yards and parking lots into the river, some of the pollution comes from contaminants in the soil and groundwater left from industrial land uses in decades past. For example, Kenilworth Park was once an open-air municipal landfill where trash was regularly burned before it was capped in the 1970’s (unfortunately before higher safety and environmental standards for landfills were adopted and enforced by regulating agencies). Other sites once hosted activities that leached contaminants into the soil, like the area at Poplar Point that was once home to a pesticide-using nursery and then a Naval Receiving Station.

However, the AWS report states that the river continues to improve across all measures. “The truth is, a passing grade for the Anacostia River is in sight,” reads the report. “The Anacostia River is cleaner than ever thanks to the persistence of the communities who live, work, and play in the watershed. We remain confident that a swimmable and fishable Anacostia River can be achieved by 2025, as long as we can sustain our momentum.”

Big Upcoming Milestones

This optimism may be due to several milestones on the river’s horizon. In 2018, the first leg of DC Water’s Clean River Project—a massive infrastructure project designed to reduce combined sewer overflow (CSO) into the Anacostia River and other waterways--will be completed, reducing the amount of sewage entering the waters of the Anacostia by 82% (the project will reduce CSO overflow volume by 98% when fully completed in 2023).

Diagram courtesy of DC Water.

Diagram courtesy of DC Water.

In addition, the Anacostia River Sediment Project, led by the District’s Department of Energy and the Environment in partnership with the National Park Service, will assess the extent of contamination in the sediment at the river’s bottom and evaluate potential ways to clean it up. Addressing contamination from the bottom of the river will most likely be a very extensive—and expensive—project. A proposed plan for cleanup will be finalized next year, and it will probably consist of some combination of dredging of sediment, capping of soils and reconstruction of tidal wetland edges along the river.

There are also plans underway to remediate the several contaminated land-based sites along the Anacostia waterfront, listed below. These places have been identified as contaminated and in need of remediation and various local and federal government agencies are leading projects to clean them up.

Get Involved

Cleanup areas along the Anacostia River. From the Figures, Tables and Appendices listed on the Anacostia River Sediment Project website.

The cleaning up of these areas is important because not only because remediation will heal the natural environment and improve human safety, but also because the planning processes for these areas will pave the way for the redesign and/or redevelopment of these sites. While Poplar Point may someday be developed to combine ecological restoration along the shoreline and mixed-use development near the Anacostia Metro station, areas like Kenilworth Park may someday be designed to combine expanded forest cover with additional recreational space and better access to the waterfront.

In order to stay up to date and weigh in on the decisions that may impact these potential futures, you can take advantage of numerous opportunities to engage in the planning process for all of these projects. We will also post information about meetings and public comment periods here on our blog.

Meanwhile, all the other projects will include public comment periods upon release of draft documents. The timeline for these plans may shift, but the latest information we have about these proposed plans and their public comment periods are highlighted on the graphic above.

Many of the plans will be completed next year. 2018 is also the 200th Anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birthday (who once commuted daily over the Anacostia River on foot!), the 50th Anniversary of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and year that construction on the 11th Street Bridge Park is slated to begin. It seems like 2018 will be a big year for progress on the river! Stay tuned - the Anacostia Waterfront Trust will be providing future updates on our website about ways to stay up to date and get involved.

Cleanup Projects on the Anacostia River

Click for larger image. 

Please note that the following descriptions and tentative timeline are provided by the Anacostia Waterfront Trust, not the government agencies responsible for each project. While we try our best to provide accurate timelines for these projects, dates may change in the future.For the latest information, please contact the project manager for each site named below.

The Anacostia River Sediment Project

Project page: https://doee.dc.gov/anacostiasediment
Lead agency: District Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE)
Contact: Gretchen Mikeska, Anacostia Coordinator at DOEE
Next Milestone: Draft documents in November, 2017 with 60-day public comment period

The Anacostia River Sediment Project is a plan to determine the nature, extent, and location of contamination in the Anacostia River, evaluate any potential for human health and ecological risks, study the best method(s) to clean up the river, present a proposed cleanup approach for public comment and make a final decision on the best cleanup method(s). The sediment contains hazardous materials like pesticides and heavy metals due decades of urban and industrial activity nearby. The proposed plan to address pollution of the river sediment will be fully completed by July, 2018. There will be opportunities to comment on portions of the studies in the fall of 2017 and in April of 2018, and the next public meeting on the project is scheduled for the evening of October 4th (time and location TBD).

Anacostia River Tunnel Project / Clean Rivers Project

Project page: The Clean Rivers Project
Lead agency: DC Water
Contact: Carlton Ray, Director of DC Clean Rivers Project, DC Water
Next Milestone: First leg of the Anacostia Tunnel online in March 2018

The Clean Rivers Project is DC Water’s ongoing program to reduce combined sewer overflow (CSO) into the Anacostia River and other waterways. The project is a massive infrastructure program designed to capture CSOs that exceed the capacity of the current system, and convey them to Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant for treatment and discharge back into the Potomac River. The program is also designed to reduce flooding in the northeast part of the District of Columbia. The first leg of the Anacostia River Tunnel System, which runs from Blue Plains to the RFK Stadium, is scheduled to be placed in operation by March 23, 2018.

Kenilworth Landfill

Project page: Kenilworth Landfill
Lead agency: National Park Service
Contact: Tammy Stidham, National Park Service
Next Milestone: Spring 2018 with a 30-day comment period

The area now known as Kenilworth Park was once a municipal landfill operated by the District of Columbia. The landfill was capped and designated as a park in the 1970s, but the soils and groundwater in the area may yet contain some hazardous materials. The National Park Service is leading the process to study the level of pollution in the park and identify ways to remediate it.

The NPS will be doing additional investigations in 2017 and releasing a proposed plan for the Kenilworth Landfill in 2018. The northern half of Kenilworth Park is also slated to be transferred to the District of Columbia from the National Park Service upon completed remediation.

Poplar Point

Project page: Poplar Point
Lead agency: Deputy Mayor’s Office of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) and DOEE with NPS oversight
Contact: Anna Shapiro, DMPED or Raymond Montero, DOEE
Next Milestone: Remedial Field Investigations, schedule TBD

The area known as Poplar Point was once used as a tree nursery and later a Naval Receiving Station, uses that potentially released hazardous materials into the soil. DOEE has taken the lead on behalf of the District to conduct a Remediation Investigation and Feasibility Study (RI/FS) for Poplar Point, with NPS oversight. The purpose of the RI/FS is to fully characterize potential contamination, assess risk, address applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements, and evaluate remedial action alternatives for the Site. The District is currently working on revising the project deliverables for NPS review and approval. Upon approval of project deliverables, remedial investigation field activities will commence. Poplar Point is also slated to be transferred to the District of Columbia from the National Park Service, although the transfer has not yet taken place.

Washington Gas

Project page: Washington Gas East Station
Lead agency: National Park Service
Contact: Tammy Stidham, National Park Service, National Capital Region
Next Milestone: Proposed Plan for cleanup released late 2020.

The Washington Gas East Station Property located south of M Street SE and east of 11th Street was contaminated by hazardous substances released by gas manufacturing operations. The National Park Service is leading efforts to clean up the property in consultation with the District of Columbia. A Proposed Plan for the Washington Gas site will be released in late 2020.

Pepco Benning Service Center

Project page: Pepco's Benning Service Center
Lead agency: District Department of Energy and Environment
Contact: Apurva Patil, DOEE
Next Milestone: Proposed Plan for cleanup will be released in April 2018

Pepco’s 77-acre Benning Service Center on Benning Road facility was identified by District of Columbia and federal government agencies as one of six sites potentially contributing to contamination of the Lower Anacostia River. As part of its larger effort to clean up and protect the Anacostia River, the District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) asked Pepco to assess whether and to what extent the Benning Road facility has contributed to problems in the river. Pepco agreed to perform the assessment, and is currently collecting additional sampling and plans to release its draft Feasibility Study report for public comment in early 2018.

Washington Navy Yard

Project page: The Washington Navy Yard
Lead agency: Environmental Protection Agency
Contact: Larry Brown, Environmental Protection Agency
Next Milestone: Proposed Plan for cleanup will be released in 2018

The Washington Navy Yard is the oldest continuously operated federal facility in the United States. Industrial activities and the production of weapons at the Navy Yard led to pollution of the site. The Environmental Protection Agency is leading the process to study and propose actions for the site. A Proposed Plan is expected to be released in April of 2018.