WAMU 88.5 : Morning Edition

Potomac's Status As 'Most Threatened' River Resonates In Alexandria

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A view of some of the development that's already along the Potomac Riverfront in Alexandria.
 
Adam Fagen (http://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/6811967296/)
  A view of some of the development that's already along the Potomac Riverfront in Alexandria.  

A leading environmental group says growth and development in the region is causing some major problems for the Potomac River. In Alexandria, that report could have reverberations on the debate over the future of the waterfront.

American Rivers is singling out the Potomac as the most endangered river in America, a distinction that indicates the waterway is threatened by pollution and development. American Rivers president Bob Irvin says the concerns should be part of land-use decisions along the waterfront.

"Anytime you are building more impervious surfaces around the river, you have to worry that that's going to both increase the volume of runoff," Irvin says. "Also, there won't be opportunities to filter out harmful pollutants."

Earlier this year, the Alexandria City Council passed a plan that would more than double the amount of development allowed on three sites on the Potomac River. Supporters say revenue from new development would allow the city to pay for flood control. But opponents such as former Vice Mayor Andrew MacDonald say the plan is a threat to the Potomac River.

"You can't undo the damage of adding new impervious surfaces to the shoreline," MacDonald says. "You are better off creating more green space that can flood and has more natural qualities." 

The report acknowledges that the Potomac is cleaner than it used to be, although the river is still threatened by urban pollution.

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