Pollution tests show Potomac and Anacostia rivers making comeback; Rock Creek lagging

August 3, 2019

An aerial view of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, center back, Key Bridge, center, and Memorial Bridge, forground, and the Potomac River in Washington, Friday, July 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Former President Theodore Roosevelt led hardy hikes through Rock Creek Park and wrote fondly about his days in the White House, which included swimming in Rock Creek in early spring. But anyone who would try that today would risk illness and besides, swimming is prohibited in D.C. rivers and streams.

Since pollution controls were put in place decades ago the waters of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers have been making a comeback — raising hope that maybe someday the two rivers could again welcome swimmers as they did in days gone by, including President Roosevelt, who also took dips in the Potomac.

Recent tests for bacteria found safe levels in five of six sites on the Potomac and four of seven on the Anacostia, according to DCist. None of the Rock Creek sites tested by Anacostia Riverkeeper had bacteria levels low enough to be considered safe for human contact.

Operating under a grant from the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment, Anacostia Riverkeeper uses volunteers from all eight wards of the city to check bacteria levels at 22 sites. This year’s weekly testing is scheduled to continue until September.

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