While over 100 people were set to swim in the Anacostia River last week before the event was canceled due to weather, a new report said the waterway gets a failing grade for river health. It is the third failing grade the group has given to the Anacostia in six years.
The Anacostia Rivershed Society said in its “2023 State of the River Report Card,” despite some visible signs of improving, the river still failed quality tests. The river’s high level of fecal bacteria, which comes from the city’s sewage runoff, contributed to the failing grade.
The fecal bacteria declined to a 53% grade, dropping from 55% the pervious year. A score of 100% means bacteria levels are low enough to swim at all times.
Another measure of focus is submerged aquatic vegetation, and over the last year the group said the Anacostia River saw a sharp loss in these plants. Water clarity is important, as this vegetation requires sunlight to survive. The Anacostia River received a failing grade when it came to water clarity as well.
According to the report, stormwater runoff is the fastest growing source of pollution in the area, which flushes trash and toxins from pavement.
But toxins and trash reduction stayed steady and improved its score respectively, the report card stated, thanks to progress on the Anacostia River Sediment Project and Anacostia River Tunnels Project.
While there was a failing grade for the year, there are some promising signals. River otters are returning to the area, indicating the return of a healthy aquatic ecosystem.
Also, the freshwater mussel population is continuing to thrive because of restoration efforts and improved water quality. Those mollusks also help filter around 132 million gallons of river water a year.
Even though the river received a failing grade both this year and in 2022, long-term trends spanning 30 years still point to slowly and steadily improving water quality. The Anacostia Rivershed Society said the goal of a swimmable and fishable river by 2025 is still within reach.