News & Politics

Planners Think Washingtonians Will Actually Want to Swim in the Anacostia River

If they can clean it up by 2040.

Illustration of beach by Dennis Eriksson; Photograph of Anacostia by Washington Post/Getty Images.

This is an excerpt from our package of articles about what Washington will look like over the next few decades. For the full package, see our April 2015 issue—on newsstands now, or purchase the digital edition optimized for your tablet hereand come back to the website for more stories over the next few weeks.

Jim Foster, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society, says a few key changes in the next 20 years could lead to a swimmable, fishable, playable Anacostia. The National Park Service plans to tidy up several problematic sites around the river (such as Pepco’s former Benning Road plant and a Washington Gas manufacturing plant), the District should complete a sewer tunnel project that would reduce sewage overflow into the water by about 98 percent, and the other Anacostia watershed counties—Prince George’s and Montgomery—will continue to cut stormwater runoff. The District is also working to determine how to keep toxins in the riverbed from leaching back into the water.

Groups such as the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District point to developments like Southeast DC’s Yards Park as evidence that the evolution is already under way. More parks, including a 78-acre wetlands reservation at Poplar Point, would spring up around a clean Anacostia. Public beaches and boat docks could dot the riverfront while bikers and joggers wind along the Riverwalk Trail bordering the water’s edge.

Foster stresses that the sunny outlook depends on lifestyle and policy changes remaining on track—and that extending the deadline to save the river is no longer an option.

This appears in our April 2015 issue of Washingtonian.