On a perfect spring day with clear blue skies above and the capitol dome rising in the background, the Anacostia River looked like the environmental gem regional government officials say it can and should be.
On May 10, District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams and Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening joined other federal and local officials in signing an agreement committing themselves to a campaign to clean up the river and make it a showplace of the nation’s capital.
Over the next decade, they will work toward six goals that include reducing pollutants flowing into the river, restoring fish populations, expanding forest cover and increasing wetlands in the watershed.
“Most cities would die for a river,” said Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the district’s non-voting member of Congress. “We have one. The very least we can do, it seems to me, is clean it up.”
Also among those attending the signing ceremony were Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and two Democratic members of Congress from Maryland, Sen. Paul Sarbanes and Rep. Steny Hoyer. Federal officials also were present and pledged their help in restoring the river.
The new agreement is the fourth signed by Maryland and D.C. officials since 1984. Glendening said he had already been asked, “Haven’t we done this before? There has been substantial progress” under the earlier agreements, he said, and added that it is now time to move on to new goals and ways of restoring the river.
Glendening and other speakers said the sense of commitment among the parties may be greater than ever.
Williams pledged to use $5 million of the D.C. government surplus for water quality improvement projects in the Anacostia basin. He said work will begin this fall on restoring 41 acres of wetlands around Kingman Lake.
Williams said a properly restored Anacostia could be an engine of economic development for the city.
Duncan promised an extra $2.1 million in county funds for stream restoration and storm water management in the Anacostia basin. That money, plus matching federal funds, will allow the county to design 54 new projects and begin construction on 20 of those projects during the next fiscal year, he said.
The officials involved in the ceremony took a boat ride down the river from Prince George’s County to the site of the ceremony.
“We saw three egrets,” said Townsend, who said as long as she looked up and out, it was easy to forget that during much of the ride she was in an urban environment.
But once she looked down at the water, it was clear how dirty and polluted it still is and how much work remains to be done, she said.