Our Own National ‘River Hero’ – Trey Sherard

Our River: The Anacostia

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The Anacostia Riverkeeper boat on tour. Photo: Riverkeeper

Every year the national group, River Network, selects from a large number of proposals a very small number of special people to receive its River Hero Award.  This year there were five chosen, one each from river restoration efforts in Milwaukee, New Orleans, Tucson AZ, Yonkers NY, and here in our own area for Our River, the Anacostia.

Trey’s favorite place to talk about Our River. Photo: Riverkeeper

Our honoree is none other than the man who serves as the Anacostia Riverkeeper, Trey Sherard.  Sherard leads a staff that reaches out to volunteers to help measure progress in the River and to take steps to move the River’s restoration along better and faster.  He also works closely with other groups at work in DC, the adjacent counties and the State of Maryland, the Federal EPA and the National Park Service.  Anacostia Riverkeeper is itself a member of the regional Waterkeepers Chesapeake as well as the international Waterkeeper Alliance.

The River Network will be holding its Annual River Rally here in DC in early June, when Sherard will receive his Award.  It will be presented to him at the Rally on June 6 by Dennis Chestnut, founder of Groundwork Anacostia River DC, himself a winner of the River Hero Award in 2019, and just named a Champion of the Chesapeake by the Chesapeake Conservancy.

Sherard was named a River Hero because of so much he has brought to the Anacostia clean-up—helping to install and maintain litter traps; preserving wetlands; pressing on the City to clean up the polluted sediments and build the tunnel to hold the stormwater and sewage mix that before overflowed into the Anacostia and other streams; establishing a program of trained volunteers to gather water samples that his office tests and helps report, a project that has over time expanded to the entire district, as well as to the upper Anacostia watershed in Maryland.  And it has the full support of the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE), which uses the results with confidence, including in the DC Citizen Science Water Quality Monitoring Report 2018-2021.  As stated in the announcement of the River Hero award, his gifts of inspiration and education make him a powerful advocate for a fishable and swimmable Anacostia.

These talents go back a long way.  Sherard grew up in and along the ocean in Wilmington, NC not far from Cape Fear, and early on he developed an interest in water bodies and how they worked.  Through a mix of jobs at marine science summer camps and studies related to marine biology, he developed a desire to center his work in the field to find solutions that fix things in the here and now.  This led him to Washington at the end of 2011 to find what he calls “the intersection of people, policy, science and environment”.

Volunteers with the results of their trash clean-up. Photo: Riverkeeper

He started 2012 with a new job working for Riverkeeper to develop clean-up programs with the public along the Anacostia.  Over time, the organization’s programs diversified, and he began to see how to build them to engage responsible parties and agencies in finding solutions and making progress.  The public can really play an important role working with agencies on collecting data, reporting on conditions and putting on political pressure.  He has been able to amplify this during his just completed two-year term as Chair of the Anacostia Watershed Citizens’ Advisory Commission, which reports to the Regional Council of Governments, and as a member of the Mayor’s  Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River.

In the Anacostia, the leadership of Sherard and others has built a real coalition with the City, the Maryland state agencies, county and local governments, and citizen groups.  Those working to clean up the Anacostia believe that though the River had the most serious problems of any in the region due to historic and current pollution, it has made the most progress in recovering.

There are some remaining issues that Sherard and his colleagues want to have addressed.  First, the goal of a swimmable Anacostia must be achieved and is already coming into sight, thanks to a tough mix of actions from onshore green infrastructure to tunnels deep below the river bottom.  Second, the long and tough battle to remove or cover the toxics and to prevent more from entering the River will have many fronts, but must be won.  Third, the National Park Service and the City must mitigate the toxics in Kenilworth Park so that the District is able to restore wetlands along the shoreline as quickly as possible.  And finally, Sherard and friends want to see leadership from the Mayor and City Council on this 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act by finally tackling the problem of single use plastic bottles, which they claim comprise 60 % of weight of all the trash floating on the River.

Finally, there are some River areas that Sherard believes will need early and decisive action due to current conditions or needs for early recovery, and which still have unanswered questions:

  1. How much of the Washington Channel needs to be removed and how much can toxic spots simply be covered and still be safe and passable?
  2. Can Kingman Lake be dredged and capped, and should it be?
  3. How quickly can these toxic cover and/or removal actions along the River be designed and carried out to make the Anacostia safe for swimming?

With important issues like these awaiting decisions, we should be grateful that we have folks like Trey Sherard to lead the way to a healthy and safe Anacostia.

BIll Matuszeski is a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River, and the retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  He also serves on the board of Friends of the National Arboretum and on Citizen Advisory Committees for the Chesapeake and the Anacostia.