- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

FREDERICK, Md. — The litter appears as the last house slips away around a curve in the rearview mirror.

Beer bottles, water bottles, soda cans and fast-food waste dot the wooded bank of burbling Ballenger Creek for nearly half a mile, tossed by travelers on Elmer Derr Road just south of Frederick.

A hard rain would wash much of it into the creek, which flows into the Monocacy River, a tributary of the Potomac.

Last year, volunteers removed nearly 218 tons of trash from the Potomac River watershed in a single day.

Now the group that sponsors the annual cleanup has a new objective: a trash-free Potomac by 2013.

It’s an ambitious goal, but the Alice Ferguson Foundation has some big-name partners.

The World Bank, which provides financial and technical assistance to developing countries, is joining with the foundation, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Exxon Mobil Corp. and the American Chemistry Council in pressing every municipality in the Potomac’s four-state watershed to help banish litter from “the nation’s river.”

Four Maryland counties — Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s — already have signed the Potomac Trash Treaty, along with the District, and Fairfax and Arlington counties and the city of Alexandria in Virginia.

Frederick County, Md., will sign it Feb. 23.

The foundation expects more local governments and elected officials to be on board by March 16, when a Trash Summit will be held at the World Bank’s D.C. headquarters.

“We have taken the first step toward achieving our trash-free Potomac goal by getting our leaders to agree that the region does have a significant trash problem,” says Tracy Bowen, executive director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation in Accokeek.

By signing the treaty, they are pledging to do something about it, she says.

Viki Betancourt, the World Bank’s community-outreach manager, says the project enables her institution to share some of its environmental problem-solving expertise with its neighbors in the national capital area.

“Obviously, taking care of the Potomac watershed is really critical for this community in a lot of different respects,” she says.

One challenge is the sheer size of the watershed.

It spans nearly 14,700 square miles in parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District.

About 4.6 million people live in the watershed, including 3.7 million in the D.C. area.

Another complication is the lack of research on the amount of trash generated in the region.

A draft action plan for the Trash-Free Potomac Watershed Initiative starts by requiring each jurisdiction to provide data on solid waste, storm-water management, recycling and anti-litter successes.

“We’d like to analyze what’s happening in the region,” says Wende Pearson, manager of the Ferguson foundation’s annual cleanup, set this year for April 8.

The general plan is to reduce waste and increase recycling, using practices that have worked well elsewhere.

Organizers aim to persuade at least 6,000 residents, 250 businesses and 50 nonprofit organizations to sign the Trash Treaty, in addition to the 40 or more governmental units in the watershed.

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