Officials unveil $1.7 billion plan to clean Anacostia River

Local and federal officials announced a plan to tackle the raw sewage, trash and toxic chemicals that have plagued the Anacostia River.
Local and federal officials announced a plan to tackle the raw sewage, trash and toxic chemicals that have plagued the Anacostia River. (Melina Mara/the Washington Post)
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By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Local and federal officials unveiled a new plan Monday for cleaning up the Anacostia River, listing more than 3,000 projects that could combat the river's infamous pollution.

The only problem: The projects could cost a combined $1.7 billion.

And so far, none of that money has been budgeted.

The unveiling of the plan, drawn up over two years by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, drew a governor, a county executive and three U.S. representatives to the banks of the river in Bladensburg. Geese honked from the water behind them -- standing on sandbars built by hundreds of years of dirty runoff.

During more than an hour of speeches, officials hailed the new plan as a comprehensive prescription for the river's ills, including raw sewage, trash and toxic chemicals.

"Today, we're taking, I think, a giant step forward for a new life for the Anacostia River," said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). But he said that much of the actual effort was still ahead: "The plan is complete, but the work is not."

The corps' plan calls for more than 1,800 projects, across the Anacostia's watershed in the District and suburban Maryland, that would "retrofit" parking lots, streets and other sites. In these places, man-made surfaces funnel rainwater directly into storm drains, and from there into the river.

The projects would add "rain gardens," or paving stones with holes in them, or other means to help water seep into the ground.

The plan also calls for the restoration of woods and grasses along 72.5 miles of stream banks and for the creation or preservation of 137 acres of marsh. It also recommends new efforts to pluck trash from along streams or sweep it out of gutters before rain carries it into storm sewers.

The river's central dilemma is this: "When it rains, and sort of the city takes a bath, what do you do with the wash water?" said Robert Perciasepe, deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Dana Minerva, who oversees Anacostia restoration work at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said that Maryland has asked the federal government for $50 million to start its work. And Montgomery and Prince George's counties have passed laws that require them to pay for storm water cleanup projects.

But they have not budgeted those funds yet, she said.

"It's not going to be easy," she said, "but there is a lot of dedication" to the task.

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