Potomac Riverkeeper: ‘I’m glad Lorde was enjoying swimming in the Nation’s River’

Editor’s Note: The video contains language some would consider offensive.

Megastar Lorde told the crowd at The Anthem in D.C. Monday she’d been swimming in the Potomac River before the show.

“I was thinking today; I was lying in the Potomac River,” she said, in video posted online. The New Zealand singer said she loves “getting to swim in water where I’m playing,” because it helps her connect with her audience, she seemed to say — although crowd affirmation and hubbub made it difficult to decipher.

Naturally, Twitter leapt to its feet, hurling jokes about tetanus shots at the thought of Lorde swimming in the Potomac.

“I was out swimming all weekend myself, and I’m glad that Lorde was enjoying the Nation’s River and getting out and swimming in it,” Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks told WTOP. “It’s come a long way over the last 50 years.”

Although I’ve tweeted directly at Lorde, asking for exclusive details about her experience in the Potomac, so far she hasn’t returned my tweet.

Naujoks surmised how Lorde’s dip in the Potomac probably happened.

“She probably went out on a boat and was just doing what a lot of other people do — just go out there, chilling on the river in a tube. That’s how people recreate and use the river,” he said.

Swimming in D.C.’s waterways was banned in the early 1970s because of the city’s aging combined sewer system, which routinely discharged 2 billion gallons of combined sewage and stormwater each year into the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, as well as Rock Creek.

However, Naujoks said people are allowed to be in the water if they’re attached to a vessel and have a personal flotation device: “You’ll see people towing their kids around on a tube, and that’s legal.”

Is it safe?

When he was hired as the Potomac Riverkeeper eight years ago, Naujoks said, when people asked whether it was safe to swim, “I really didn’t have a lot of good answers, other than to say ‘Stay out of any river for the first 48 hours after rain.'”

Now, Naujoks said, weekly water quality monitoring from May to October shows “It’s certainly safe enough to swim in areas like National Harbor, where there’s an 85% pass rate,” he said. “The Tidal Basin is like 95%.”

Don’t grab your bathing suit and head downtown, though: “To be clear, it’s still illegal to swim in D.C. waters,” Naujoks said — it’s just that testing shows the water is safe.

The Potomac Riverkeeper Network is trying to change that, and has identified six potential beach and swimming areas along the river — an aquatic trip back to the future.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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