1st chance to swim in Anacostia River in 50 years scrapped (again) due to bad weather

Editor’s Note: Friday morning, the organizers of Anacostia River Splash! Made the decision to cancel the event due to expected weather conditions.

For some, it’s been a dream decades in the making — a permitted public swim scheduled for the Anacostia River.

In 1971, swimming or wading in the Anacostia River was banned due to concerns about water quality.

The roughly 180 people who signed up to hike the trail on Saturday to Kingman Island and take part in the Anacostia River Splash Event — which has been canceled due to impending severe weather — will have to wait another day to take a dip.

It’s the second time this event has been postponed — two months ago storms led to sewage spilling into the river forcing the cancellation.

But the work to make such an event possible is still something to be celebrated.

Kingman Island
Visitors to the Anacostia River Splash will walk along a trail to Kingman Island and they’ll take the plunge from the dock outfitted with ladders, which will make getting in and out of the river easy. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Even when he’s not on the water leading boat tours, Trey Sherard, the Anacostia Riverkeeper is quick to point out wildlife and native plants found in the Anacostia watershed. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Trey Sherard
Trey Sherard, the Anacostia Riverkeeper, explains that the water quality of the Anacostia is monitored and studied by a number of groups, including the Anacostia Watershed Society. The Anacostia Riverkeeper started the first volunteer water quality monitoring program in DC six years ago, said Sherard. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Trey Sherard
Trey Sherard, the Anacostia Riverkeeper, tests out the ladders installed on the dock for Anacostia Splash, the first time in 50 years that a permitted swim event will be held in the river. Saturday’s event is dependent on weather — and water — conditions. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Kingman Island
Trey Sherard
Trey Sherard

The event was being hosted by the nonprofit Anacostia Riverkeeper which, along with a number of environmental advocacy groups, has been pushing to restore the river to a swimmable state.

When the event was first announced, Trey Sherard, whose title is the Anacostia Riverkeeper, told WTOP that public comments about the event fell into three categories — those who said, “Woohoo! Finally!” those who declared, “Hell no, never!” and a third category of those who were hesitant.

Sherard understands that third category well.

The Anacostia River has long had a history of being plagued by pollutants, including sewage overflows.

“We’re seeing now the fruit of almost a quarter century of work” to clean up the river, he said.

“We didn’t just jump out of the blue and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to jump in the river.’ We have seen 25 years of work, getting to the point where water quality monitoring shows certain points in the river meet safe swimming standards,” Sherard said.

“The area around Kingman Island passes the swim standard about 90% of the time,” he added, citing data he said was consistent over a number of years.

The recently completed work by DC Water to build tunnels designed to capture 98% of the sewage that could otherwise end up in the river is part of that restoration effort.

“So it’s going to take a really big storm to dump a lot of water quickly before we see an overflow now,” Sherard said.

Sherard led WTOP’s Kate Ryan to the Kingman Island dock, where participants would have entered the river for the splash.

Earlier in the week, he personally checked the water depth at the point of entry, checking for any sticks, trash or even abandoned bikes in the water. And yes, items such as that do show up along the riverside and in the water, he explained.

When asked what the most unusual thing he’s found in and alongside the Anacostia River was, Sherard said, “grocery carts” without missing a beat.

“Grocery carts have wheels and, with or without direct human help, they will find their way down a slope to a creek and when a big storm comes. They’ll get washed into the creek,” he said. From there, they can end up in the Anacostia.

While Sherard said the Anacostia is an urban river, it’s also home to native plants and animals.

Cardinals called from brush nearby, sea gulls squawked overhead and little reptiles, called skinks, with their electric blue tails, skittered along the pathway, leading away from the river to the Kingman Island trail.

For weeks this summer, a pair of Roseate spoonbills showed up in the area, drawing birders eager to add the birds normally found in southern Florida, and in parts of Texas and Louisiana, to their life lists.

As the nearby Metro rumbled by and a helicopter whirred overhead, Sherard said, “There are a million people that live in and around this watershed. So, we have to be doing conservation for people’s sake, too.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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