Calls to end Potomac swim ban as DC celebrates Clean Water Act anniversary

It’s been decades since residents have been able to swim in the Potomac River, but summers could soon mean going for a dip as a push to lift the ban on swimming in the District’s rivers draws more support.

Dean Naujoks, the Potomac Riverkeeper with the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, said that through the Swimmable Potomac Campaign, the organization is working to spread the word about the improvements the river has undergone over the last few decades.

As the city celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, he said it’s important to recognize the progress that has been made.

“D.C. is really the only city in America that has banned swimming because of their sewage problems,” said Naujoks, pointing out that many areas across the District have once again become safe for human contact. “Cleaning up of the Potomac River has led to a restoration effort.”

The network also releases weekly water quality reports through their app, Swim Guide, to help residents navigate conditions. Last year, about 32,000 people downloaded the free app, which is available for Apple and Android devices.

While some areas like Rock Creek remain of serious concern, he said minimizing pollution is a constant focus.

“This river is swimmable, we want to return it to swimmable, we want to lift the swim ban in D.C. and we want people to start coming back,” he said.

During the summer, the hustle and bustle on the river is becoming more noticeable, with boaters and kayaks in addition to redevelopment.

“This is a positive thing. We just want them to use it when it’s safe and avoid contact when it’s not,” Naujoks added.

They’ve since started a petition to lift that swim ban, but it’s up to the city’s leadership to make that happen. He’s hopeful Mayor Muriel Bowser and the city council will step up to lift the ban, which would then lead to the creation of beaches and swim areas.

“We want D.C. leadership to realize that this river belongs to the public, and the public has a right to use it,” Naujoks said. “They’re well on their way to fixing the pollution issues, so let’s recognize that we have plenty of swimmable days in the Potomac.”

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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