Environmental Issues > Environmental Justice Main Page > All Environmental Justice Documents

Partnerships for Change
NRDC has worked with many community-based organizations to defend people's right to a safe and healthy environment.

from Katrina
Fighting for Green Space Cleaning Up Anacostia
Shielding Children from Pesticide Exposure Improving
Air Quality
in an Urban Neighborhood
Protecting Children From Rat Poisons Forcing Nuclear Waste Clean-up

Cleaning Up Anacostia River
Washington D.C., 2000 - present day

Photo of water testing on the Anacostia
Testing water clarity in the Anacostia, with a "secchi disk."
© Anacostia Watershed Society

The Challenge: Visitors to Washington, D.C. flock to the banks of the historic Potomac River, a scenic waterway known for its cherry trees, parkland and marble monuments. But Washington's other river, the Anacostia, is far less of an icon. Severely polluted by toxic runoff, sewage, industrial waste and trash, the Anacostia flows through some of the capital's poorest, most neglected African-American neighborhoods. Most pollution enters the Anacostia as stormwater runoff. At the same time, sewage overflows in the district and crumbling sewer systems upstream in Maryland together pour more than 2 billion gallons of sewage into the river each year. A sharp contrast to the Potomac, the Anacostia is an eyesore, with waters unfit for swimming or fishing.

Working Together: Determined to get involved in the cleanup and restoration of this forgotten river, NRDC's Washington staff started an Anacostia project in 2000. They got in touch with local groups, such as the Anacostia Watershed Society, Friends of Sligo Creek, and Anacostia Riverkeeper, and attended meetings to introduce themselves to local activists and learn more about the task at hand. After establishing that pollution entering the river was the major threat, NRDC staffers used their technical expertise to produce Out of the Gutter, a blueprint for reducing this damage. The report recommended low-impact development measures -- such as replacing impervious surfaces with ones that allow stormwater to seep into the soil -- to keep toxic substances from flowing into the river. NRDC's Anacostia team includes Melanie Shepherdson, whose work includes ensuring the repair of crumbling sewer systems upstream in suburban Maryland. When the Washington Suburban Sewer Commission fails to act to reduce its raw sewage overflows into the river and its tributaries, NRDC noticed its intent to sue the commission for violating the Clean Water Act. Our action prompted US EPA and the state of Maryland to file their own suit and WSSC quickly agreed to a settlement to fix their problems.

Today: Combining advocacy efforts with its technical expertise, NRDC has helped amend building codes and other regulations in the district to facilitate the use of low-impact development measures that reduce stormwater flows into the Anacostia. Several local government agencies and private organizations have already made commitments to carry out low-impact development projects -- and with several new redevelopment projects in the planning stage, NRDC's Clean Water Project Director, Nancy Stoner, is working to set new standards for developments along the Anacostia River that will provide incentives to use green construction and low impact development techniques. "The Anacostia River could be a wonderful resource for the community," says Stoner "We want to see the day when it is swimmable and fishable again." Senior Attorney Jon Devine is also working to keep trash out of the river and its tributaries. He has already succeeded in petitioning Maryland to formally recognize that the waterways are impaired by trash and need to be cleaned up. Now Jon is working to get enforceable trash reduction requirements in DC and Maryland permits.

<< Previous Page | Top of Feature | Next Page >>

Get Updates and Alerts

See the latest issue >

Give the Gift That Will Make a Difference: Eco-Justice

NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs

Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.

Donate now >

Related Stories

Hidden Danger
A large percentage of U.S. Latinos live and work in urban and agricultural areas where they face heightened danger of exposure to air pollution, unsafe drinking water, pesticides, and lead and mercury contamination.
Asthma and Air Pollution
Bad air can bring on asthma attacks; tracking air quality and controlling pollution from cars, factories and power plants can help.
Share | |