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Picturesque, But Polluted: Anacostia Gets C- In River Report

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Fourth graders from Two Rivers Public Charter School ride along the Anacostia River as part of a school project. River watchdogs recently graded the river a C- when it comes to pollution.
Jessica Gould
Fourth graders from Two Rivers Public Charter School ride along the Anacostia River as part of a school project. River watchdogs recently graded the river a C- when it comes to pollution.

When it comes to water quality, some environmental activists say the Anacostia River is failing to make the grade. The Anacostia Watershed Society has given the river a C- in its 2011 State of the River report.

On the surface of the river, everything looks clean and healthy. Swallows are swooping and the sun is bouncing off the ripples in the water. But underneath, it's another story. Messiah Douglas is a fourth-grader at D.C.'s Two Rivers Public Charter School, which has been studying the river. 

"It's filled with pollution, like trash, bottles, a ball, tires," Messiah says. "And I even saw an Easter egg."

He's right, according to Julie Lawson, a spokesperson for the Anacostia Watershed Society who says the Anacostia is full of fecal bacteria, stormwater, toxins and trash.

Specifically, heavy rainfalls often cause the sewers to overflow into the Anacostia, Lawson says. Old power plants leach chemicals into the water. Runoff after heavy rains also plays a role.

"Our biggest challenge that the Anacostia is facing is still unmitigated stormwater runoff," she says. "Rain falls on the land, so much of which is paved, and runs into the river, carrying pollutants with it."

The Watershed Society analyzed three sections of the river, one in Maryland and two in D.C. Lawson says some things are getting better. For example, a stormwater utility fee passed this week in Maryland should encourage more property owners to reduce runoff. 

"It requires nine of Maryland's largest counties to assess fees on property owners that have impervious surfaces," Lawson says. 

Meanwhile, Two Rivers fourth-grader Erik Cekan says he and his classmates are ready to pitch in. 

"I think it would be a nice river if we could clean everything up," he says.  

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