The Anacostia River: In Need Of Clean-Up

Not so long ago, the Anacostia River was the pride of the District of Columbia, flowing as a pristine ribbon for nearly nine miles from Prince George’s County in Maryland to the Potomac. But now this once-vibrant recreational spot is better known for being one of the most polluted rivers in the nation. Earthjustice has worked for years to compel the responsible pollution control agencies to clean up the Anacostia. Take a walk through the current state of the river:

A stuffed animal floats in the Anacostia River on a recent Friday afternoon.

The Anacostia has been described as one of the dirtiest rivers in America.

The reason? For several decades, state and federal governments failed to protect this cherished watershed.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

An empty and abandoned plastic soda bottle floats in the Anacostia.

One of the major sources polluting the river is raw sewage, with a half-billion gallons ending up in the river annually, due to outdated and poor-functioning sewer systems.

These discharges contain bacteria at levels thousands of times more toxic than permitted by public health standards.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

Several ducks reside in the shores and waters of the Anacostia River. Here, one takes a swim.

Discharges from the District's separate storm sewers contain a dangerous mix of heavy metals, oils, pesticides, bacteria and other harmful pollutants.

Without proper treatment, these substances permeate the environment and drain into the Anacostia River from industrial sites, construction lots, urban streets and residential areas.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

Kenilworth Marsh, part of the Anacostia River watershed.

Since public officials have failed for decades to address pollution problems, the Washington, D.C. office of Earthjustice office has been working for many years to protect and restore the Anacostia River ecosystem.

Earthjustice recently won a victory in federal court requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland, and D.C. to adopt adequate limits on pollution from combined sewer overflows and stormwater systems.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

An embankment full of debris and trash from the river.

Although the trash in the river has lessened significantly in the past 10 years, there is still a large amount of trash that ends up in the river.

Earthjustice and our clients have asked the courts to require stronger controls on polluted urban runoff from the 500 square-mile storm sewer system in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

The Pepco Benning Road Power Plant towers over the river. Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) waste allegedly comes from the plant and has ended up in the river.

Earthjustice has filed administrative and court actions to curb discharges of metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Anacostia River from the Washington Navy Yard and adjacent Southeast Federal Center, the site of a 200-year old shipbuilding yard and ordnance factory.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

One of several beautiful egrets (a type of heron) that resides in the Anacostia River watershed.

In the wake of litigation filed by Earthjustice, the federal and D.C. governments abandoned plans to build a new freeway across the Anacostia River.

The proposed freeway would have destroyed several acres of parkland along the river and would have subjected the Anacostia area to increased traffic, air pollution, runoff and noise.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

The Pepco Benning Road Power Plant is an eyesore to anyone touring the river.

The District has also stepped up efforts to clean up the river that have led to much less trash in the river than there was 10 years ago.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

A plan to convert a natural island in the Anacostia to an intensive, for-profit theme park was abandoned by the District of Columbia, after many years of opposition from Earthjustice and others.

A significant court victory as a result of Earthjustice's participation found that the National Park Service had failed to properly analyze the environmental impacts of the theme park proposal.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

The Anacostia River watershed.

The River flows for nearly nine miles from Prince George’s County in Maryland to where it empties into the Potomac.

Map: Kmusser / Wikimedia

Working with civic and conservation groups, Earthjustice has undertaken numerous initiatives to protect the Anacostia.

Today, there is much less trash in the river than there was 10 years ago.

But more needs to be done, and Earthjustice continues to work on restoring the Anacostia River.

Photo: Raviya Ismail / Earthjustice

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