Public Policy & Advocacy

Giving a voice to the Anacostia River
AWS Interns Measure Water Quality
Giving a voice to the Anacostia River

The Anacostia Watershed Society was founded in 1989 when a group of local residents, led by Robert Boone, came together to protest decades of destruction of the Anacostia River and the neighborhoods around the river. 

Boone dubbed the Anacostia “the Forgotten River” and set out to make sure it wasn’t forgotten any longer.   Over the years, the Anacostia Watershed Society has fought proposals for inappropriate development, sued polluters to hold them accountable, and worked with legislators to advance pioneering public policy across the District of Columbia, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County. 

By basing our advocacy on carefully collected data, we have earned the respect of legislators, policy makers, corporate partners, and local advocates throughout the Chesapeake Bay.  Some of our key policy victories have been successfully advocating for a fee on single use plastic bags, a ban on Styrofoam takeout containers and carcinogenic coal tar sealants, and a consent decree with DC Water that mandates the reduction of 98% of sewer overflows to the river.

Three Decades of Success

Over the past three decades, Anacostia Watershed Society has achieved significant victories on behalf of the Anacostia River and the neighborhoods of the watershed. Here are just a few highlights:

  • 1988 – 1990 – National Arboretum Clean Up – For decades the National Zoo had used the Arboretum’s river front property as a dump for animal waste. AWS led the effort to stop the dumping and restore the area, which now is the site of the acclaimed Asia Garden as well as a riverfront dock which offers access to the growing number of recreational boaters on the Anacostia River.

  • 1989 – Hickey Run Restoration – Anacostia Watershed Society alerted federal, state and local officials that three underground storage tanks were leaking hydrocarbons and antifreeze into Hickey Run, leading to an award winning retrofit of the Metro Bus facility on Bladensburg Road and the restoration of Hickey Run.

  • 1992 – Kingman Island Theme Park – Anacostia Watershed Society led the effort to prevent a commercial developer from locating a theme park on Kingman Island, preserving the land as greenspace for recreation and environmental education.

  • 1996 – Barney Circle Freeway – Anacostia Watershed Society blocked a proposal to build an expensive highway connection over the river to divert downtown traffic, saving Southeast DC from air and noise pollution, the river from toxic pollution, and the citizens of DC from spending millions on unnecessary and destructive roadways.

  • 1996 – Navy Cleanup - Anacostia Watershed Society sued the U.S. Navy to force them to clean up PCBs left in the riverbed from ship building at the Navy Yard. AWS prevailed in the lawsuit and the Navy agreed to an $18 million cleanup.

  • 1997 – Illegal Dumping - Anacostia Watershed Society blew the whistle on illegal dumping on Kenilworth Park, within National Park Service land. Construction debris and garbage was being illegally dumped until AWS shut it down.

  • 1999 – CSO Lawsuit - Anacostia Watershed Society won a landmark lawsuit against the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority’s Combined Sewer Outflow, which was dumping millions of gallons of untreated waste into the Anacostia with every rainstorm. As a result of this ruling, DC Water had constructed a series of deep tunnels, the first of which will come on line in 2018.

  • 2005 – Sports Stadiums - Anacostia Watershed Society successfully advocated legislation that required that new sports stadiums should be designed to LEED standards, to minimize impact on the Anacostia River. National’s Stadium and Audi Field currently under construction are among the greenest in the nation.

  • 2009 – DC Bag Bill - After an Anacostia Watershed Society study of trash in the river revealed the high prevalence of plastic bags, the DC Council passed a $.05 fee on bags, to reduce their usage and to fund river restoration efforts. The bill has been a huge success and is being copied in cities across the country.

  • 2010-2011 – Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Stormwater Regulations – Anacostia Watershed worked with county leaders and advocates to adopt the strongest stormwater regulations in Maryland.

  • 2011 – Pepco Benning Road Plant Clean Up – Anacostia Watershed and other advocates went to court to block a proposed agreement between Pepco and the DC Government because the agreement didn’t fully address the contamination on the riverside property. In 2012, Pepco agreed to close the outmoded plant, and in 2013 Pepco announced it would demolish the eyesore, and restore the site.

  • 2015 – Prince George’s County Bans Coal Tar Sealants and Plastic Foam – Anacostia Watershed Society led the effort to ban coal tar sealants, which produce toxic runoff, and polystyrene foam containers, which are a major source of pollution in the Anacostia River. All three watershed jurisdictions now ban these products. 

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