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Home​NewsSplash! in the Anacostia River Set for June 29

Splash! in the Anacostia River Set for June 29

Now a civic ecologist and environmentalist who was also founding executive director of Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Dennis Chestnut says that up through the mid-1960s, the Anacostia River was used for swimming, fishing, boating and baptism by people living along either side of the Anacostia.

But by 1971, DC Municipal Code included a new law: it was illegal to swim in either of the District’s two rivers. The Anacostia had been polluted by a century of industrial waste, stormwater runoff and sewage.

But that could change this month. A one-time event — Splash! —organized by the Anacostia Riverkeepers takes place June 29. It is already booked solid with a waitlist. Each registered swimmer will be assigned a 20-minute block to swim in the river, starting from the Kingman Island Dock (3101 Benning Rd. NE).

The first District attempt, scheduled for July 2023 was delayed to September after heavy rainfall affected water quality. That may also have been impacted by simultaneous work on the new northeast boundary tunnel, which was finally completed in September 2023, delaying the event a second time.

It will be the first legal swim in the Anacostia River in 52 years. Swimming is still illega in the District. Splash! is possible due to a 2018 amendment to DC Code allows the Director of District’s Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) to grant permission for a one-day swimming event on the Anacostia River.

And the District event is planned to take place a week after Harbor Splash!, a similar event in Balltimore Harbor on the Patapsco River, where the Healthy Harbor Initiative has similarly been championing the goal of a swimmable, fishable Baltimore Harbor.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott will take part in the June 23 swim. (No word yet on whether District officials will participate in the Kingman Island event June 29).

“We all own this collectively, owning up to what the harbor was but also saying, this is where we are now and this is where we’re going to go is our collective responsibility to talk about that,” Balitmore Mayor Scott said in a statement. “I know the data, I know the water is safe, and that’s why I’ll be jumping in the harbor.”

Here in DC, the Anacostia River has improved beyond expectations, but as in Baltimore, the swimming event is contingent on water quality results from the days prior.

Petra Baldwin, Project Coordinator for Water Quality Monitoring for Anacostia Riverkeeper, is part of a team that monitors water quality in the river.

“It’s definitely the best that it’s been, definitely in the past decade–decades, actually,” Baldwin told the Hill Rag last year. Multiple sites on the river pass water quality tests most of the time.

The key tell, she said, is E. Coli. Not because it’s the most dangerous bacteria, but because it indicates what other bacteria might be in the water. The Riverkeeper monitors seven sites on the main stem of the river. It’s consistent at sites like Buzzard Point and up near Kingman Island, where Splash! will take place.

But the completion of the Northeast Boundary Tunnel last September will go far to reduce those levels. It’s part of the system of tunnels surrounding the older parts of the City, where combined sewage and street sewer runoff remain. It now feeds the new underground tunnels, each the size of subway tunnels. They can store overflow until the treatment plant on the Potomac in Anacostia across from National Airport can handle it, keeping it out of the river.

That means soon, maybe you can jump in to it instead!

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