While Lorde stumped most of D.C. by admitting her illegal act Monday night, she became an unwitting hero to a very small group.
The audience howled.
Because that would kinda be like telling the crowd at her Amsterdam show in June that she totally gets them after spending the day wearing wooden clogs.
People who live in those cities don’t really do those things anymore.
For anyone under 80 in Washington considering the Potomac, intersex and diseased fish, the flotsam and clogged-toilet bacteria come to mind.
“Lorde Shocks Fans After Revealing She Swam in D.C.’s Polluted Potomac River,” the Newsweek headline read.
“Lorde swam in the Potomac? She bouta start growing extra limbs pray for my sis,” Laylani Tsunami wrote on Twitter.
The river used to be the region’s playground. Twenty thousand people a day swam in the Tidal Basin 100 years ago, said Dean Naujoks, the Potomac Riverkeeper.
Today, it’s illegal to swim in the Potomac River. It has been since 1971. And Lorde’s swimming claim — no one in her world has confirmed that she did, indeed, take that swim — was like an early Christmas present for Najouks, whose whole career is about getting 20,000 people back into that water.
“I swam in the river all weekend,” he said. “Our goal is lifting this archaic swim ban. D.C. is the only city in America that bans swimming because of sewer pollution.”
The Riverkeepers test the Potomac’s water every week and rate it on a nationwide Swim Guide that updates ahead of every weekend, rating water quality for swimmability, to the horror of federal officials.
“Yeah, they got on us right away,” he said. “They made us change the language on it.”
But guess what? When it comes to water quality, the river is swimmable most days. According to recent bacterial counts, Lorde will not grow a third eye and glow at her next show.
The real danger is being pulled in by the churning undercurrent of the river, which is wild as it narrows and widens. This summer was tragic, opening with the drowning of a father and son, then the death of a beloved baseball kid who got a shout-out from the Nationals days after his body was pulled from the water.
Water samples for E. coli over the past month are 126 MPN/100ml in the Tidal Basin and 61 MPN/100ml in the Washington Channel, the water outside the Anthem. Those MPNs (Most Probable Number — really, scientists?) are below the environmental standards for clear water for swimming in Canada, the United States and Europe if the numbers are below the 200s.
So despite the incredulous Washingtonian uproar at her show, she’s not a swimming outlier. It’s a little bit of a shared secret among scofflaws, an exclusive bunch who’ve been swimming plenty.
“I swim at Three Sisters regularly if anchored up that way,” said Jason Kopp, former president of the East Coast’s largest live-aboard community, which is on the Potomac, right next to the Anthem. “But really anywhere you can safely anchor down to the Bay, I swim it,” he said.
If Lorde did swim in the Potomac River — none of her publicists answered my questions — she probably swam off a boat, because beaches and access points largely died over the 50 years that swimming has been illegal.
It’s easy to anchor in the river and jump off the stern of any boat, from a cuddy cabin to Dan Snyder’s 224-foot, $100 million superyacht.
And that’s the part that makes Najouks furious.
The riverkeepers are issuing annual swimmability reports and urging D.C. to drop the swim ban, something that would be pretty cool this year on the 50th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act.
“Right now the only way you can go to the river and use it is on a boat,” Najouks said. “Low-income families don’t have access to a boat. It’s time to open this river up to use and enjoy.”