Small River, Global Impact

Picture of Anacostia Riverkeeper

Anacostia Riverkeeper

Nestled in the heart of our nation’s capital, the Anacostia River is a small but mighty river. Long overlooked and neglected, the “Forgotten River” has suffered from decades of pollution and degradation. However, recent years have seen a remarkable resurgence in the Anacostia’s health and vibrancy, transforming it into a model for revitalizing heavily polluted rivers worldwide. 

Through our Anacostia River Explorers boat tours and Clean Waterways trash cleanups, we work with many international groups visiting or working in DC that are interested in learning about the Anacostia River’s unique story. In 2023, we brought on board a U.S. State Department delegation from Vietnam, a Deloitte consulting group from Indonesia, and the Center for Water Security and Cooperation, to name a few. Recurring cleanup events with groups like the EU delegation to the United States and HSBC bank provide another platform for creating lasting connections and partnerships. We value these events as an opportunity for us to learn from each other and broaden our perspective on environmental protection worldwide.

European Union Delegation to the US, Trash Cleanup at Anacostia Park

The Anacostia River flows through the southeastern part of Washington, DC. The river winds its way through a diverse urban landscape, touching various neighborhoods, parks, and landmarks, making it an integral part of the city’s identity. Its proximity to the nation’s capital gives it a unique significance from early ship building in the historic Navy Yard to housing former slaves moving north after the Civil War. It may be the Forgotten River, but the Anacostia has always been at the core of DC’s, and thus our nation’s, history.

The River’s resurgence has garnered it new attention from our local community and the world. Over the past several decades, a variety of efforts have been undertaken to clean up and restore the river, ultimately turning it into a model for revitalization on an international scale. The story of the Anacostia River’s resurgence is a testament to the power of community activism, government initiatives, and environmental stewardship:

  • Legislation and Policy: The Clean Water Act (CWA) and other environmental regulations have played a crucial role in regulating pollution in the Anacostia River. A TMDL (total maximum daily load) for trash ensures a legal requirement for cleanup goals, and settlements from CWA lawsuits led to programs like DC Water’s Clean Rivers tunnels to minimize sewage overflows into the river. Just this year marked a major legal win when Pepco paid $57M in a settlement for toxic contamination of the Anacostia River, which was the largest environmental settlement in D.C. history.
  • Government Investment: Much of the recent restoration work on the Anacostia River has been thanks to support and funding from local governments in DC and Maryland. In the midst of striving for national and global protections, local investment and action is critical for creating change.
  • Grassroots Activism: From shutting down a landfill and incineration plant at Kenilworth Park to stopping construction of an amusement park on Kingman Island, it is the actions of small community groups that has protected the Anacostia River from further degradation. These successes highlight the importance of working together to fight for rivers and everyone who lives, works and plays in their watersheds.
  • Environmental Justice: The restoration of the Anacostia River is also an environmental justice success story. It has highlighted the importance of ensuring that underserved communities along the river’s banks benefit from the revitalization efforts.
  • Reconnecting Communities: A key component of Anacostia Riverkeeper’s mission is to connect people with the river through events like Friday Night Fishing, boat tours, and other family-friendly events. Creating memories on the river fosters a sense of ownership and belonging, creating lifelong stewards and advocates.
Deloitte Urban and Climate Resilience Team from Indonesia

The Anacostia River’s journey from being the “Forgotten River” to a model for global revitalization is a story of resilience, environmental stewardship, and the power of community action. Communities facing similar environmental challenges can look to the Anacostia River for inspiration, learning from our experiences and approaches to rejuvenate their own rivers. Moreover, the international impacts of the Anacostia River emphasize the importance of addressing water pollution and promoting restoration efforts globally. Every river and every community is unique, but we can strengthen our restoration efforts and learn from each other when we come together.

As we look to the Anacostia River, let it serve as a beacon of hope for other heavily polluted rivers around the world. The lessons learned here can inspire and guide us in the pursuit of cleaner, healthier water bodies that benefit both nature and the communities that rely on them. Together, we can transform the fate of forgotten rivers and usher in a new era of environmental preservation.