Every day, the shores of the District are left with a “bathtub ring of trash,” as the waters of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers rise and recede in the shadow of monuments to Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln.
Such was the case yesterday when environmentalists and city officials gathered at Hains Point in Southwest to begin the second annual Capital River Relief effort.
Dozens of volunteers will work two shifts almost daily, cleaning trash in the rivers, as well as on land. The effort culminates on Earth Day, April 22.
“After high tide, it’s going to be a bathtub ring of trash … all up the Anacostia and all up the Potomac, and it’s us — it’s us that’s doing this,” said Robert Boone, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society, which sponsors an annual Earth Day cleanup and celebration.
Last year, volunteers from local businesses and congressional staffers pulled 162 tons of trash — four barge loads — from the rivers’ edge in one three-hour shift. Among the oddest items: ATM machines, prosthetic legs and a human skull.
“When the water level is high, it becomes like a toilet. Everything gets flushed down the river,” said Tracy Bowen, executive director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, sponsor of tomorrow’s 17th annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, which attracted 3,700 volunteers last year.
“All of [the District’s rivers] should exemplify the highest ideals of our country,” said Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who joined Maryland and Virginia leaders earlier this week in signing the Potomac Trash Treaty, with the goal of a trash-free Potomac by 2013.
“It’s not just a collection of monuments — it’s a living and breathing city,” Mr. Williams said.
Areas targeted for cleanup stretch from the Georgetown waterfront, through the area of the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and the Washington Navy Yard, up to RFK Stadium.
Volunteers will comb watershed areas and ride five skiffs contributed by Living Lands & Waters, an Illinois-based nonprofit whose barge will house a floating recycling center on the Potomac until Earth Day.
“It’s really powerful and connects [volunteers] more to the river than just coming down and doing land-based cleanup,” said Chad Pregracke, who lives on a houseboat in the Mississippi River and founded Living Lands in 1998.
“People are slowly starting to see these rivers less as a sewer and more as a treasure,” Mr. Pregracke said.