This week’s intense downpours prevented a Saturday swim in the Anacostia River, which would have been the first permitted dip in the body of water in more than 50 years.
The anticipated “Splash” event has been postponed until September, according to a Friday announcement from the District’s Department of Energy and Environment. Jeff Seltzer, Deputy Director of DOEE’s Natural Resources Administration, stated in a news release that the downpour had led to combined sewer overflows, or sewage overflows into local water systems.
swift, comprehensive, and written just for locals. Receive The 7 DMV email every morning of the workweek in your inbox. According to Seltzer, “we have had several intense short duration rain events, which caused two small CSO discharges to the Anacostia River,” the event had to be postponed “out of an abundance of caution.”
Weather disruption of the scheduled swim was anticipated by the organizers. Since 1971, swimming has been prohibited in D.C. rivers due to high contamination levels, primarily E. coli from sewage leaks. Making the Anacostia and other local waterways safer for citizens has taken decades of labor, including Clean Water Act litigation and innovative technical initiatives.
The purpose of Saturday’s swim was to commemorate how far the cleanup operations had come. Preregistered swimmers would have been able to splash in the Anacostia in 20-minute increments at the Kingman Island Dock next to the Benning Road Bridge.
The majority of the District’s neighborhoods have separate sets of sewers for the human waste dumped into toilets, sinks, and showers and storm water runoff from streets. The “combined” sewer system, a 19th-century installation with just one set of pipes, is used by around one-third of the city.
This combination system becomes overloaded during periods of heavy rain and overflows into surrounding waterways, such as the Anacostia.
The $2.6 billion project to construct a large network of subterranean tunnels in D.C. is almost complete. These tubes will capture overflows and direct them to a wastewater treatment plan. Before being discharged into the river, the liquid will undergo treatment.
The Anacostia River Tunnel, which opened in 2018 and now absorbs up to 90% of sewage overflow, was a component of the effort. However, heavy rains might still disrupt the system.
The Anacostia Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization that promotes community involvement with the river, lead campaigner Trey Sherard told The Washington Post last month that the general rule of thumb is to avoid interacting with urban waterways within 72 hours of storm events. “Leaks are caused by storms,”
A fresh segment of the tunnel network for the Clean Rivers Project will be finished later this summer. The Anacostia Riverkeeper and DOEE estimate that after installation, the system will manage 98 percent of sewage overflows.
In a statement announcing the deferral, Anacostia Riverkeeper president Suzy Kelly stated that “water quality has significantly improved over the past few decades.” We are as close as we have ever been to being able to bring back an Anacostia that is swimmable.
A new date for the September swim has not yet been revealed by the organizers.