The Wash

Anacostia River clean-up gets final approval by the end of the year

The decision to move forward on a delayed action project backed by the city that will clean the bottom of the Anacostia River will be made before the year is over

A project to clean harmful chemicals that have plagued the Anacostia River for years is on track to begin cleanup efforts by the end of this year, according to city officials.

The Anacostia River Sediment Project has a goal to clean the river’s sediment, or contaminants, at the bottom of the river that affect the fish and water quality.

According to the District Department of Energy and Environment, the project will be given a final decision as soon as December.

Questions from The Wash about the estimated cost of the final project were left unknown but so far, the remedial investigation to determine the nature of the river’s contamination has cost about $25 million.

The soon to be tax-funded project sparks a new excitement for residents who have been hoping to swim in the neighborhood river that’s been neglected for generations.

“I never thought it would be possible,” said Terry Wilkinson, a Southeast D.C. resident.

Wilkinson enjoys the Anacostia Park and walking trails along the river. Since she moved to the Navy Yard area across from the River, she has doubted it would ever become a place where residents can enjoy the water too, much like they do the Potomac River.

“I’m really excited about the project,” said Wilkinson. “I’m excited about the possibility of swimming in the river.”

The Anacostia River Sediment Project’s objective is to make the river more swimmable and fishable by 2023.

For years, residents have avoided interaction with the water in the Anacostia River in fear of waste and chemicals contaminating the water.

The Anacostia River was named for the Anacostan Native Americans who lived here during the 17th century.

Even though the river lies just east of the Potomac River and stretches well into Virginia and parts of Maryland, the Anacostia has been nicknamed as the city’s “forgotten river.”

Like many other urban rivers, the Anacostia has a long history of industrial and commercial activity. Storm sewers, tributaries, pollution, groundwater and industrial sites, like the Kenilworth Landfill, are just some sources of impurity to the river.

According to Gretchen Mikeska, the Anacostia coordinator for the Department of Energy and Environment, industries have dumped waste, trash, and other toxins into the river for nearly 140 years. Efforts to clean the river have been ongoing for more than 20 years.

“The Anacostia River Sediment Project essentially looks at the legacy of contamination and how it has affected the sediment, fish, and other organisms living in the river,” said Mikeska.

Sediment, also known as pollutants and harmful chemicals, have gravely affected the river’s health. The project has been examining the river’s condition and determining what type of cleanup efforts need to be implemented for successful sediment removal.

Mikeska said the process to analyze the river and make determinations has been slow and complex. The project was first initiated in 2014 after the city decided to allocate money to restore the river further.

“There are other successful clean ups across the country we also look at,” said Mikeska, “but big river clean ups take a long time.”

In addition to hosting forums and updating their website with information about the project, public input is another focal point.

Last year, the department released their Remedial Investigation Report, Human Health Risk Assessment, and Ecological Risk Assessment to inform the public about the plan to clean the bottom of the river. People were allowed access to the report and given the opportunity to comment.

“Public commentary is important for this project,” said Mikeska. “People had questions and concerns about their health, community and fishing. They also want to know what is going to happen in the next few years.”

Walking trails along the river throughout the Anacostia Park bring visitors from near and far.
Walking trails along the river throughout the Anacostia Park bring visitors from near and far.


The city will begin to see new changes along the river at the beginning of the new year. With the addition of D.C. Water’s Anacostia River Tunnel, water quality is expected to improve and organizations like the Sierra Club and the Anacostia Riverkeepers still work to clean up trash and keep alive the positive legacy of the Anacostia.

Kristen Johnson

Kristen Johnson is a journalism graduate student at American University.

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