Clean water groups highlight progress for Anacostia River, call for more success stories

Environment America

Washington, DC. – On the heels of the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a new report tells the story of how the bedrock environmental law has helped to restore and protect the Anacostia by reducing the amount of trash disposed of in the river.

Environment America, Anacostia Watershed Society, and the Environmental Protection Agency released Waterways Restored, a series of case studies compiled by Environment America Research & Policy Center, on the banks of the Anacostia River to highlight the need for a new rule to restore protections for over half of our nation’s streams 20 million acres of wetlands

“The Clean Water Act has brought progress to the Anacostia River, but the law’s promise isn’t yet fulfilled,” said Jessie Mehrhoff, organizer with Environment America. “All of our rivers and streams deserve a success story.”

Known as the “forgotten river” in the D.C. region compared with the higher-profile Potomac, the Anacostia River has suffered from horrific pollution for decades. Now action required by the Clean Water Act is reducing dumping of trash into the river, leading some to hope that it can be made safe for fishing and swimming in little more than a decade, according to Environment America Research & Policy Center Report.

“When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just protect rivers like the Anacostia and the Potomac from pollution; it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into our rivers and lakes,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.”

While the Anacostia River is guaranteed protection under the Clean Water Act, too many of America’s rivers and streams are not, due to a loophole in the law secured by developers and other polluters nearly a decade ago.

In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to restore protections for the headwaters, streams, and wetlands left in limbo by the loophole. But oil companies, agribusinesses, and developers are campaigning bitterly against it, and last month the U.S. House voted to block the rule.   

Advocates at today’s event, however, stressed broad support for the proposal from environmental groups, farmers, small businesses, and ordinary citizens. Tomorrow, more than 500,000 public comments supporting the rule will be delivered to EPA officials in Washington, D.C.

“The Anacostia River is on a pathway to become one of America’s great urban river success stories. It’s been a long and challenging effort that has taken 25 years and will take another 10 years to become the special urban place our residents and communities deserve. We could never have brought it back without the Clean Water Act. It has been the driving legal force that has brought results,” said Dan Smith, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at the Anacostia Watershed Society.

While the Anacostia River is getting cleaner, polluters still dump about 206 million of toxic chemicals into waterways nationwide each year. Protection from pollution and development for the smaller streams that flow into the Anacostia River, advocates said today, is crucial to restoring the river for future generations.

“The only way to continue the Anacostia on the path to success is to protect all the rivers and streams that flow into it,” said Mehrhoff. “That’s why it’s so important for EPA to restore protections for all the waters that crisscross our nation.”

staff | TPIN

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