- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Grimy water bottles, a muddy purse and a truck tire so heavy a bulldozer was needed to dislodge it were just some of the debris found in Anacostia Park on Wednesday during a river cleanup to recognize World Oceans Day.

None of the trash should be there, officials say, but river conditions are much improved from not so long ago when volunteers were pulling items from the water that were better suited for a junk yard.

“Go back awhile and you’d see entire car bodies and heavy equipment,” said Eric Sibley, Anacostia Watershed Society stewardship programs manager. “Now most of the stuff is bottles and cans.”

Pollution in and around the river is nothing new. But on the day that oceans were in the spotlight, the watershed society and non-profit environmental agency Oceana worked together to remind people that the Anacostia River is still a vital part of mother ocean’s health.

“Everything flows downstream,” Mr. Sibley told the dozen cleanup volunteers. “If you don’t nip the problem at the source, you never solve the problem. This is a very challenged river, a very urbanized river.”

According to the watershed’s 2010 Anacostia River Report Card, the river scored a failing grade based on its water quality and clarity, which includes the presence of fecal bacteria.

To highlight the river’s status, Mr. Sibley warned the volunteers that the heat and humidity would make the water look enticing but “you don’t want to jump in.”

Outfitted with knee-high boots, rubber gloves and pool skimmers, the volunteers set off between the Anacostia Railroad and the Pennsylvania Avenue bridges, picking up everything that didn’t belong naturally in a river environment.

Hauling a black foam noodle he found under a boat launch, Adams Morgan resident and environmental lawyer Blake Mensing said the District needs to split its sewer system so that sewage and storm-water runoff go their separate ways, rather than running together and encouraging overflows.

The runoff picks up the bottles and cans thrown away and carries them to local rivers.

“The branches, stumps and even whole trees that make their way past the Nationals ballpark “are indicative of storm water volume,” Mr. Sibley said. “The water volume completely washes out the stream beds.”

To stop the amount of plastic reaching the water, two years ago, then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty signed a 5-cent bag tax into law for every disposable bag used for purchases in the city.

Mr. Sibley said he’s already seen “a visible difference” in the amount of plastic in the water and along the riverbank since then.

Standing in her bright yellow “wellies,” Capitol Hill resident Sarah King, 23, said she came down to help with the cleanup because when she was younger “my dad and I would pick up trash, even though I didn’t want to. Now I appreciate it more. I wanted to do my part.”

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