Friends of the Earth (FoE) say the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, a public private partnership to revitalise Washington DC’s waterfront, could be jeopardised if measures are not taken to clean up the river.

The Anacostia River has been named as one of the US’10 most polluted rivers. About 1.2 billion gallons (4.5 billion litres) of raw sewage flow directly into the city’s rivers every year. Levels of pollutants, such as fecal coliform bacteria, often reach 1000 times accepted safety levels. This is due in large part to pollution that flows downstream from Maryland. Another major contributor is the combined sewer overflows (CSO) from the District’s antiquated sewer system.

FoE says sewage has been redirected to the Anacostia River, which flows past some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city, allowing tourists to rent paddleboats on the Tidal Basin, in the shadow of the Jefferson Memorial and the city’s famous cherry blossoms.

FoE believes the success of the revitalisation of the Anacostia waterfront is intertwined with the success of efforts to clean up the Anacostia River itself. “The waterfront will only become a pleasant place if the river is restored to a more healthy state” a FoE spokesperson told edie.

The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is a partnership between the District of Columbia, the Federal Government and the community. Its purpose is to develop a plan for the future of the waterfront, to co-ordinate the land use, development and planning actions of City and Federal agencies, to allocate more than $30 million of US Government funds and $100 million of private investment proposed for the area and to attract new resources.

However, the only proposals so far mentioned by the Mayor’s office to clean up the river are a flotable debris netting system for one CSO outfalll; $10 million for a US EPA funded engineering study by Washington Area Sewage Authority (WASA) on reducing civilian CSO; and $80,000 for a study on reduction of federal CSO.

“We applaud this planning project along a long-neglected portion of the city’s waterfront, but we urge those involved to pursue a parallel track to restore the waterway itself,” said Larry Bohlen, director of health and environmental programmes at Friends of the Earth. “The outcome of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative depends on the health of the Anacostia River.”

WASA has been urged by FoE to take two initial steps to fix the problem in the short term. WASA has been encouraged to bring the sewage system up to its full capacity by fixing broken pipes and valves, and to take immediate steps to stop the flow of raw sewage into Washington’s waterways.

One temporary fix successfully employed in other cities, and under consideration by WASA, is called the Equiflow system. It acts as a holding tank for sewage that overflows into the river during rainstorms. Results of a WASA study are pending.

FoE says the US Government plays a large part in the sewage overflow problem. “We propose that the Federal government, which contributes a large part of the raw sewage that flows into our rivers, step up to the plate to provide financial assistance to eliminate sewage overflows. The Federal government should pay its fair share to fix a situation that has resulted from decades of neglect,” said Bohlen.

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