The Anacostia River swim event was to take place at Kingman Island in Washington DC. Photo: Kingman & Heritage Islands

Anacostia Swim Event Canceled Due to Sewage Overflow

It’s a disappointing (and ironic) development in Washington D.C. The district had advertised a “history making” event scheduled for this past Saturday, the Anacostia River Splash. It was to be the first permitted swim in the Anacostia River in over 50 years.

The river is historically riddled with urban pollution problems, but its health has made strides thanks to the Anacostia Riverkeeper organization, which was putting on Splash.

A DC Citizen Science Water Quality Monitoring Program has found low bacteria levels at key recreation sites on the Anacostia in recent years. The Riverkeeper organized the unprecedented event to celebrate the upturn and give neighbors the chance to enjoy the waterway.

Sadly, before enthusiastic residents had the chance to take their sanctioned swim at Kingman Island, a rainstorm last Thursday triggered a combined sewer overflow. As the Anacostia Riverkeeper explained in a notice postponing the event, a combined sewer overflow means that “untreated stormwater and wastewater flows into nearby waterbodies. The end result is pollution that can make it unsafe to swim 72 hours following a rain event.”

In an abundance of caution, they called off the swim. The Riverkeeper does note that DC’s Clean Rivers Project, which is in its final stage of construction, will control 98 percent of these overflow events in the Anacostia.

That will further improve water quality, the riverkeeper organization says.

The Anacostia Riverkeeper organization and the district will work to find another date for Splash this fall, after the Clean Rivers work has been successfully completed in the river.

-Meg Walburn Viviano