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Checking In and Helping Out on Our River

Psychology experts say it’s always smart to spend some hours walking with nature, helping others and seeking out ways to document positive change in your community. And right now is a great time to turn to our beautiful Anacostia and help us all understand what things are happening. You can be part of telling the story of its recovery, and gathering the evidence as that change for the good becomes more evident and permanent with each passing year.

Anacostia Riverkeeper (ARK) has received a $140,000 grant from the District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) to establish volunteer citizen water quality monitoring programs in Our River, as well as in Rock Creek and the Potomac. It is partnering with the Audubon Naturalist Society, the Rock Creek Conservancy, and the Potomac Riverkeeper Network to cover the other streams, and with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to help with training.

Of the 22 monitoring locations city-wide, seven are in the Anacostia on both sides from Buzzard Point to the Arboretum dock. The plan is to train citizens like you and me to take samples at each site for pH (acidity), temperature, E.coli (a measure of fecal bacteria) and turbidity (how cloudy the water is) weekly and make the results available to the public. The samples will be taken by the citizen monitors to the Anacostia Riverkeeper offices near the Navy Yard for analysis in their lab under an agreement with the District that includes quality assurance provisions to ensure a level of accuracy so they can be used in the District’s decision-making, just like data taken directly by DOEE.

Basically, anyone 18 years or older or kids with parents can help with the monitoring. The idea is to gather the samples in teams of two or three once a week, with each team sampling one of several sets of sites based on need and availability that day. The sampling will occur on Wednesdays or Thursdays from May to September. The goal is to post the results on-line for everyone to see by Friday, as close to the weekend as possible so folks can plan their activities along the River with knowledge of the water quality conditions. The results will be available for free to the public on the Swim Guide app, and online at Swimguide.org, www.anacostiariverkeeper.org or the Chesapeake Monitoring Cooperative.

As DOEE Director Tommy Wells said when the grant was issued, “This presents a tremendous opportunity for DOEE, Anacostia Riverkeeper and its partners to work together with residents on water quality issues. The volunteer monitoring program will provide valuable and accessible water quality data for residents and visitors…[and] represents an important step toward our goal of swimmable rivers.”

It is important to note that even though there is water quality data that indicates that there have already been some times and places where it could have been safe to swim in the Anacostia, the absence of regular data on current and long-term conditions prevents the City from removing the present District-wide ban on swimming. But as Anacostia Riverkeeper Outreach Coordinator and Biologist Trey Sherard says. “The new volunteer water quality monitoring program will greatly expand our understanding of the health of our waterways with more frequent sampling at more sites. We hope to document many more days when these sites meet the District’s primary contact standards for safe recreation. That’s the next big step to allow the District to designate places along Our River as swimmable.”

So what do you need to do to become a Citizen Monitor? All it takes is attending a single training session to learn how to properly take and handle the samples and deliver them to Anacostia Riverkeeper for analysis. There are two sessions currently scheduled. The most convenient will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 3 at the Earth Conservation Corps offices out on the Pier where 1st Street SE meets the River – 1520 First St. SE. The other is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 10 at the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Woodend Sanctuary at 8940 Jones Mill Road, off Rock Creek Park just inside the Beltway. In either case, be sure to sign up in advance at www.anacostiariverkeeper.org or by e-mailing monitor@anacostiariverkeeper.org. If you have questions you can call them at 202-863-0158. And that easily you will become an important part of the Anacostia recovery effort!

Meanwhile, we all need to get out and celebrate Earth Day. It is Saturday, April 13, early this year because Easter Weekend overlaps the normal April 20 date. There are citizen clean-ups organized all along the Anacostia and up many of its tributaries. To find out where to go to join others in cleaning up the trash and other effluvia like dead branches and weeds, check out the websites of Anacostia Riverkeeper and the Anacostia Watershed Society.   You will be able to choose a place near you, or you can sign up for a part of the watershed you’ve always wanted to see. Anacostia Riverkeeper will be running the cleanup in Anacostia Park.

And finally, we can all celebrate our efforts at the 5th Anacostia River Festival on Sunday, April 14 from 1 to 5 p.m. in Anacostia Park at Good Hope Road, just south of the 11th Street Bridge in Anacostia. The Festival is the Official Closing Event of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and is sponsored by the National Park Service and the 11th Street Bridge Park. Admission is free to the public. This year the event also celebrates the 100th Anniversary of Anacostia Park. There will be canoe rides, a bike parade, lawn games, family fishing and a range of other activities (all free) related to the natural world and the Anacostia. It is an event for all ages and celebrates the arrival of spring to Our River.


Bill Matuszeski writes monthly about the Anacostia River. He is the retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, a DC member the Citizens Advisory Committee on the Anacostia River and a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River.

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