Anacostia River continues to improve — but don’t jump in

The ecological conditions of the Anacostia River are improving, according to this year’s report from the Anacostia Watershed Society, but barely.

The overall water quality got a passing grade for the third time in a row — albeit, earning a D grade. So don’t plan to go swimming anytime soon.

Here’s how the Anacostia River scored. Click on the graphic to enlarge.

With a baseline of anything over 60 being “passing,” the only part of the river that passed the “fecal bacteria” — poop water — section was upper D.C. with 67.

Toxins continue to be a problem, though this year did mark the first time the river got a passing grade for that.

“Thanks to significant efforts by the federal and District governments to address toxics at the river bottom, the score for Toxics Remediation received its first passing grade,” the report said. “There are many toxic chemicals in the river such as pharmaceuticals, PCB, PAH, pesticide, herbicide, and heavy metals, to name a few.”

River critters seem to be doing better, at least, including mussels.

“In 2018 we began our #MusselPower program to propagate mussels in the Anacostia River,” the report said. “Juvenile mussels produced by our partners at a hatchery at the Virginia Fisheries and Aquatic Wildlife Center were deployed for a year in floating baskets at eight locations in the Anacostia River.”

“This program continues today, and as of May 2021, the Anacostia Watershed Society has returned 19,000 native freshwater mussels to the ecosystem, and they will filter 69 million gallons a year, the equivalent of 106 Olympic-size swimming pools annually.”

Local otters seem to think the Anacostia is getting a bit healthier, too. Here’s hoping they safely make their way to some Maryland crabs.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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