State of the River Report Card
We regularly provide a progress update on the Anacostia River in part to create accountability for decision makers entrusted with the health of the river. This report card is your guide to how well our communities, environmental groups, and governments are meeting the goal of a fishable and swimmable Anacostia River, per the terms of the Clean Water Act. Provided here is a summary of the scientific data we have analyzed so that citizens and public officials can better understand the current state of the Anacostia River.
Our 2023 Report Card receives a failing grade of F, proving the need to course-correct our progress towards a clean and healthy river.
- The Anacostia River received a failing grade for the third time in six years with a score of 52%, a 3-point drop from last year's score.
- Toxics Remediation and Trash Reduction, the scorecard’s qualitative measures, stayed steady and improved its score respectively thanks to progress on the Anacostia Sediment Project and Anacostia River Tunnels Project.
- Though this year's failing grade is a setback, long-term trends going back 30 years still point to slowly and steadily improving water quality and ecosystem health. In our assessment, the goal of swimmable and fishable by 2025 remains within reach.
- River Otters have re-established themselves here in the Anacostia River, with sightings even in the inner watershed, indicating the return of a healthy aquatic ecosystem.
- The freshwater mussel population continues to thrive through both restoration efforts and improved water quality over all. With over 36,000 mussels released into the river since 2019, their filtering capabilities on the Anacostia River’s waters is estimated at roughly 132,097,150 gallons of water in a year, or the volume of 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools in a single year.
The mission of the Anacostia Watershed Society is to protect and restore the Anacostia River by bringing partners and communities together to achieve a clean and safe Anacostia River for the benefit of all living in its watershed and for future generations. We believe that by working together with businesses, governments, faith-based organizations, and youth we can create sustainable solutions that improve our communities, empower our residents, and create economic prosperity that will result in a clean river. We want to change the way people think about the Anacostia and make the river a destination.
Challenges to Overcome
The most important parameters for a swimmable and fishable Anacostia River are fecal bacteria, toxics, trash, and uncontrolled stormwater. High fecal bacteria levels indicate that the water contains many types of disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and protozoa that can be hazardous to human health. We don't yet know the specific health risks associated with occasional exposure to the toxics (heavy metals, pesticides, and other chemicals) in the sediment in the river, but we do know that those contaminants are having a negative impact on fish populations and that removing or treating toxic sediment will be necessary for the river to sustain healthy fish safe for human consumption. Stormwater runoff is a major issue because runoff from impervious surfaces (e.g., roads, parking lots, driveways, roofs) brings numerous pollutants to streams and generates torrential stream flow, which causes streambank erosion and makes the water cloudy and inundates the river with sediment. The runoff also carries fecal matter, trash, and other pollutants to the river.
Data Sources and Disclaimers
- Data set: All available, professionally collected data was used. The data sets include those collected by DC government, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, United States Geological Survey, and the Anacostia Watershed Society.
- The data was compared with thresholds developed by Mid-Atlantic Tributary Assessment Coalition (MTAC) who created EcoCheck protocols - Sampling and data analysis protocols for Mid-Atlantic tidal tributary indicators.
- For the 2022 State of the Anacostia River Report, the data used for Remediation Indicator evaluations and Water Quality Indicator analysis were done for 2020.
- For trend analysis, data sets from 1984 to 2018 were used depending on the parameter and the section of the river.
- Note that no Report Card was issued in 2013 and that the one issued prior to that was dated 2011 (for the year representing most of the available data, rather than the year it was issued, 2012.)
The Anacostia Watershed Society would like to thank the following organizations for technical assistance and/or funding for this report card:
- The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment
- Mid Atlantic Tributary Assessment Coalition
- District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE)
- American Chemical Society
- Prince Charitable Trusts
Thanks also to the AWS staff and consultants who contributed to the report:
- Christopher E. Williams, Anacostia Watershed Society President
- Masaya Maeda, Water Quality Specialist
- Bekah Holloway, Director of Development and Communications
- Maureen Farrington, Marketing Manager
- Jorge Bogantes Montero, Natural Resources Specialist