Thursday, October 14, 2010

LOOK FOR: Clean Water

Aqua Man
Photo credit: nickwheeleroz
So many of the places we love in DC center around water: Great Falls, The Northwest Branch, Rock Creek Park, Scott's Run...we draw our drinking water from the Potomac, for heaven's sake.

So why do we let the water stay so dirty?

Sure, we're able to run the Potomac's water through a sterilization system so folks in DC don't have to join the 42,000 people in the world who die every week from water-borne illnesses. And for that we should be truly grateful.

But at the same time we're sterilizing our drinking water, what's left behind is incredibly polluted. So much so, that it's not considered safe to swim in our stretch of the Potomac or the Anacostia.

And the critters that do swim in the rivers aren't doing so hot: the US Fish and Wildlife Service has found eggs in the testes of over 80 percent of the male smallmouth bass they studied in the Potomac, and cancerous lesions or sores in two thirds of the brown bullhead catfish they studied in the Anacostia River.

Jumping Smallmouth Bass
Smallmouth bass, trying to escape? Photo credit: onthespiral
What are some of the sources of the pollution? There are many, but I'll highlight four big ones, and some suggestions for how you can do your part to clean them up. Add your own in the comments!

DC's antiquated sewer system combines stormwater and sewage in the same pipes. When there's a big storm, the combined overflow goes into our rivers. DC Water's long-term plan (required by a consent decree) includes over $2 billion in improvements over the next 10 years, but still will allow several overflows each year into the Potomac, the Anacostia, and Rock Creek.

>> Support efforts by Anacostia Riverkeeper, Anacostia Watershed Society, DC Environmental Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Groundwork Anacostia River DC to keep pressure on DC Water to continue upgrading their plans.

Many pollutants aren't cleaned out of our sewage, even when it makes it to the treatment plant. Scientists think it's the funky chemicals from pharmaceuticals, lotions, soaps, and other household products that might be causing those intersex fish.

>>Look for products labeled as biodegradable, and dispose of things in the trash, not by washing them down the drain; sign the Potomac Conservancy's petition for more research and accountability on this issue.

The city is covered in impervious surfaces that prevent rainwater from seeping into the ground. Instead, rainwater picks up heat and pollutants from roofs and streets and crashes into our streams. Local jurisdictions have been making some strides to require stormwater mitigation for new development, but there's a long way to go.

>>You may be able to improve the stormwater situation around your home; programs in DC and Montgomery County will even cover some of the cost.

Fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste wash into the water from farms upstream, and from yards here inside the beltway.

>>Keep your own yard chemical free, and support local farms that raise food with minimal or no chemicals. Also support the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's work to control nutrient pollution.

Wouldn't you love to go for a carefree swim someday in the Anacostia River? A girl can dream, can't she?

Photo credit: Stefan Gara

This post wass inspired by Blog Action Day 2010: Water.