A Clean and Active River
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Through a broad coalition of civic and government advocates, private and public investment, and progressive policymaking, the Anacostia River is experiencing an extraordinary environmental turnaround – one so dramatic to merit becoming a national best practice.
River Restoration
A clean river is the foundation for the Anacostia River revitalization and makes all other objectives and investments in the waterfront possible. Once dubbed “DC’s forgotten river” because of heavy pollution and neglect of its banks, the Anacostia River is on its way to becoming fully fishable and swimmable. While photos from a decade ago show a river covered in floating trash, today, the Anacostia River is experiencing an environmental rebirth characterized by improved water quality, wildlife repopulation, and more accessible, natural shorelines. To transform the Anacostia River into a fishable and swimmable river, in 2014, the District launched a long-term project to address contaminated sediments called the “A Cleaner Anacostia River” project. This project is the most comprehensive approach to restoration in the river’s history, and the District allocated $45 million to support cleanup efforts.
Improved Water Quality
The restoration of five streams that flow into the Anacostia has diminished effluent pollution and debris that pollute the river’s waters. Legal requirements paved the way for the local water and sewer utility, DC Water, to initiate the biggest infrastructure project in the District since the building of the Metro system: the DC Clean Rivers Project, a $2.7 billion sewer tunnel system and greening program to decrease the amount of untreated sewage spills into the river by 98 percent.

In addition to the ongoing remediation of several polluted sites, including at Kenilworth and Boathouse Row, the Anacostia River Sediment Project will lead to an enforceable clean-up strategy for the river bed itself. The redevelopment of old and highly polluting industrial areas on the riverfront has stemmed industrial runoff. The District and its partners have also worked to reduce trash pollution in the river through trash traps installed on various tributaries, anti-littering education, illegal dumping enforcement programs, and volunteer clean-up events, preventing millions of pounds of trash from entering the Anacostia River each year. Lastly, the District’s stormwater regulations and incentive programs, like the Stormwater Retention Credit Purchase Agreement Program, are driving the installation of green infrastructure across the city to reduce pollution and erosion from stormwater runoff.
Health and Activity
Improved water quality is addressing long-time environmental justice concerns and creating a healthier environment for nearby communities. Residents have been coming back to the river to take advantage of its numerous recreational opportunities, including maritime activities like kayaking, boating, and recreational fishing.

Progressive Legislative Framework for Sustainability
Since 2003, a coalition of tireless civic and non-profit advocacy groups in cooperation with District government agencies and policymakers advanced legislative measures to significantly improve the Anacostia River’s environment. New legislation and agreements with adjoining jurisdictions that share the Anacostia Watershed have helped to reduce the number of plastic bags and polystyrene (foam) containers in the river, create sustainable funding for river cleanup and environmental education, provide guidance for wetlands creation, restoration, and conservation, and launch innovative funding mechanisms for green infrastructure projects that reduce stormwater runoff into Anacostia waterways. The adoption of exemplary site and building standards for green design and stormwater management have also helped stem the amount of organic and chemical pollution going into the river. Much of this work has been guided by the District’s bold sustainability vision encapsulated in the Sustainable DC Plan. More recently, the District developed the Climate Ready DC Plan to strengthen resilience to increased flooding and rising tides and other climate change impacts on the District.
Environmental Education and Economic Development
Youth are the future stewards of a clean and healthy Anacostia River, and the river itself is a source of jobs for future generations. The District maintains its commitment to training and deploying District youth to clean and study the river, while encouraging its recreational use through youth education and engagement. Through the Green Zone Environmental Program’s Summer Youth and the Young Adults Watershed Protection Education and Job Training, District agencies have trained more than 1,000 young residents while cleaning the river, planting trees, and creating wetlands.
Conservation as Parks and Destinations
In 2018, Kingman and Heritage Islands were designated as the District’s first State Conservation Areas. This act signaled a permanent and long-term commitment to conservation while also ensuring a park resource for surrounding communities, a unique space for environmental education, and a destination for events. On both islands, and along the Anacostia River and its shores, increased clean up and conservation efforts have stimulated the return of wildlife. Now, portions of the river are home to tidal freshwater wetlands, vernal pools, wildflower meadows, tidal swamp forests, and hundreds of species of birds, mammals, and other wildlife.
DC Water Clean Rivers Project
The DC Clean Rivers Project is DC Water’s program to reduce combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into DC’s rivers. CSOs are highly polluting spills of raw sewage and stormwater into rivers caused by the inadequate treatment and storage capacity of urban sewer systems. Until the recent completion of the current sewer system, the District’s rivers and creeks experienced CSOs during rain events. The DC Clean Rivers Project has created a new 157-million-gallon tunnel system where CSOs can be stored and conveyed to the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Anacostia River and Potomac River tunnel systems include more than 18 miles of tunnels, constructed more than 100 feet below the ground. The DC Clean Rivers Project will reduce CSOs annually by 96 percent throughout the system and by 98 percent for the Anacostia River alone. In addition, the project reduces the chance of flooding in the areas it serves and reduces nitrogen discharged to the Chesapeake Bay.
Kingman and Heritage Islands
The product of dredging the Anacostia River over 100 years ago, Kingman and Heritage Islands are now home to important and rare ecosystems, including tidal freshwater wetlands and swamp forests. Consequently, the islands boast more than 100 different species of birds, mammals, and other wildlife. For these reasons, in January 2018, the District designated portions of both islands as a State Conservation Area and the southern area of Kingman Island as a Critical Wildlife Area. The designation restricts the use of the islands to environmental, educational, and recreational purposes only. Furthermore, the District committed to investing $4.7 million to fund outdoor classrooms, bathrooms, and accessible routes and pathways for visitors to the islands. These improvements will mean greater use of the island by District residents and visitors, which in turn will help expand successful school and volunteer programs already in place. Kingman Island is already a popular destination for cultural programming like the annual Bluegrass Festival, which introduces more people to this unique natural asset in the middle of the Anacostia River.
Resurgence of the Anacostia Waterfront