Friday, March 28, 2014

Cleaning up the Anacostia River

The three films we highlighted from the DC Environmental Film Festival over the last couple of weeks had one theme in common: the need to clean up the Anacostia River. The Anacostia Watershed Society has come a long way in the past 25 years in their goal to make the Anacostia fishable and swimmable, with help from many individuals and organizations. The river is now cleaner than it has been in generations. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

Kayaking Paddle Anacostia River
Kayaking the Anacostia near Bladensburg Riverfront Park
Photo credit: Mr. T in DC

Trash. The morning of Saturday April 5th is the Anacostia Watershed Society's 20th annual Earth Day trash-removal event. Last year, the cleanup removed 49 tons of trash from the river. Register here to help out.

Toxins. But the problem goes much deeper than trash. This year a new coalition, United for a Healthy Anacostia River, has formed to focus on cleaning up toxins from the bottom of the river.

Brown bullhead catfish with tumor
Photo credit: Fred Pinkney, USFWS
Old industrial sites along the river like the US Naval Weapons Factory, the Washington Gas and Light coal gasification plant, Pepco’s two generating stations, the city dump, and others have left a legacy of pollution. Fish in the river have a high rate of tumors thought to be caused by polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, which come from coal, oil and gasoline). But while the tumors are unsightly, it's the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that invisibly accumulate in the muscle tissue of fish and pose more of a health threat to humans. You can sign a petition to make cleaning up these toxins a top priority in DC.

Sewage. The toxins aren't all old. An estimated 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage mixed with stormwater flows into the Anacostia River each year as a result of antiquated sewer systems that overflow during storms (known as combined sewer overflows, or CSOs). This results in high levels of bacteria and other pathogens in the water, another thing making it unsafe to swim or fish in the Anacostia.

As a result of a lawsuit, DC Water is now building a huge system of 23-foot-wide tunnels that should keep most sewage out of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. In a fascinating article, the Washington Post called it "the most amazing and expensive construction project that no one will ever see." When you get your water bill, know that recent rate increases (and probably more in the future) are going to pay for this project. Here's a bit of a peek:

Runoff. Even when it doesn't combine with raw sewage, stormwater runoff can create problems as it picks up nasty chemicals from the streets and then crashes into local streams at concentrated points, causing erosion. If you're a homeowner, check out the programs in DC, Prince George's County, and Montgomery County that will give you rebates for doing things to keep more rainwater on your property and out of the street.

So, what do you think -- will we be able to swim and fish in the Anacostia in our lifetimes?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

EFF: Nature and Community, Raptors and Youth

Every year, the DC Environmental Film Festival offers hundreds of insightful and compelling films from around the world. Films are showing from March 18-30, and many are free. On the Natural Capital, we're highlighting a few with DC connections.

March 30, noon, Carnegie Institution for Science
Protecting and Restoring Nature and Community: 6 short films

  • MIDNIGHT BLUE (France, 2013 8 min.) Using sand as animation, the film follows the rhythm of a whale's meditations, allowing us to witness the ocean in a different way.
  • FROM THE CLOUD TO THE GROUND (Tanzania/USA, 2013, 8 min.) Collaboration between the Jane Goodall Institute, Google Earth Outreach and local villagers to monitor forests.
  • FISH-I: AFRICA (USA, 2014, 18 min.) In the Western Indian Ocean, fighting large-scale illegal fishing. 
  • CABO PULMO (USA, 2013,16 min.) Rejuvenation and conservation of an ocean ecosystem at the only coral reef in the sea of Cortez.
  • SANCTUARY (USA, clips from a work-in-progress, 10 min.) This is the story of Rodney Stotts’ awe-inspiring struggle to provide Washington, D.C.’s underserved youth and endangered raptors with a safe haven for mutual healing and growth. As Rodney mentors a group of 16 to 18-year-olds whom the education system has failed, they will work to build flight cages for eagles on conservation land, a second chance for the young people and the birds. Introduced by filmmaker Annie Kaempfer. Discussion with Annie Kaempfer and Rodney Stotts, falconer and trained raptor specialist, follows screening.
  • REVIVING THE FREEDOM MILL (USA, 2013, 20 min.) When environmentalist Tony Grassi takes a crazy gamble to rehab an abandoned Mill, he inspires both skepticism and hope that its revived bond with the river will breathe new life into the rural town of Freedom, Maine. Discussion with Tony Grassi and filmmaker David Conover follows screening.

Check out this interview by Alexandra Cousteau for a taste of Rodney Stotts' work:

And another from VOA:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

EFF: Fishing the Anacostia

Every year, the DC Environmental Film Festival offers hundreds of insightful and compelling films from around the world. Films are showing from March 18-30, and many are free. On the Natural Capital, we're highlighting a few with DC connections.

March 21, 6:30 PM at The Anacostia Community Museum; free.

"Every year, more than 17,000 people eat fish from the polluted Anacostia River in Washington D.C. Decades of pollution have resulted in a buildup of toxins that sicken the fish population and have restricted the recommended consumption for catfish, carp and eel to zero. Efforts are underway to return the river to a more natural state and the fishermen themselves are key to addressing the problem."

Discussion with filmmaker Colby Waller follows screening.

Or watch it here:

Friday, March 14, 2014

EFF: Sustainable DC

Every year, the DC Environmental Film Festival offers hundreds of insightful and compelling films around the world. Films are showing from March 18-30 and many are free. On the Natural Capital, we're highlighting a few with DC connections.

SUSTAINABLE DC: 3 Short films
March 21, 6:00 PM, Carnegie Institution for Science; Free, but reservations required

  • GREEN ROOFS IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (USA, 2014, 5 min.). Green, or vegetated, roofs help contain rainwater to reduce runoff that would otherwise collect oil and grease from roadways, nutrients from lawn fertilizers and bacteria from pet waste as it flows into our rivers and streams. Green roofs also filter air pollutants from the rainwater and save energy in buildings.
  • EARTHECHO EXPEDITION: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE BUILD CITIES? (USA, 2013, 10 min.) Philippe Cousteau and the EarthEcho Expeditions team journey across the Anacostia River and underground in Washington, D.C., to explore the impact of urbanization on the water cycle. They visit the new sewer tunnels being constructed as part of D.C.’s Clean Rivers Project.
  • REBALANCING (USA, 2014, 23 min.)  Is Capital Bikeshare an environmental success story? Shot in every Ward of Washington D.C., in Arlington and in Alexandria, the film addresses how bicycling both reflects and changes our lifestyles. 

Introduced by Mayor Vincent C. Gray. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion, moderated by Elliott Francis of WAMU, with Keith Anderson, Director, DC Department of the Environment; Harriet Tregoning, former Director, DC Office of Planning; Vanessa Garrison, Founder and Director, GirlTrek, and George Hawkins, General Manager, DC Water and Sewer Authority.

You can also watch the EarthEcho piece here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Amazing: Watch a Frozen Wood Frog Come Back to Life

Every winter, wood frogs freeze solid. They have no heartbeat -- their heart freezes too. For weeks at a time.

When he holds one in this video, narrator Robert Krulwich says "it feels like a rock."

But watch what happens next.

Friday will be well above freezing during the day and on Saturday it's predicted to get up to 60 degrees. You might want to check out your nearest vernal pond and see what's going on.

See also : LOOK FOR: Frog and Toad Eggs (and Tadpoles)

Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Things to look for in March

This time last year, the wood frogs were out and had already laid their eggs. As of this morning, the pond where we always find them was completely frozen over. And there's more snow on the way! I can't tell you how happy it made me to put together this post of the things we have blogged about in March in previous years. It gives me faith that winter will end one of these days, and there will be spring beauties, spring peepers, and all kinds of other cool stuff. What have you been seeing lately?

Photo credit: Carly & Art
Bloodroot is one of our favorite spring flowers. Each plant blooms only briefly, and there's a window of only a few weeks that the bloodroots bloom at all. It's one more thing that inspires us to spend as much time as possible in the woods at this time of year.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Photo credit: aecole

Every year we look for the cheery flowers of the
spicebush as they emerge to light up the understory. It's common throughout our local forests.
Maple Flowers
Photo credit: jpwbee
Maple flowers aren't as showy, but they're an important source of nectar for early-season pollinators -- and an unexpected spot of springtime color if you know to look for them.
Spring Peeper
Photo credit: bbodjack
Spring peepers are another pilgrimage-inspiring phenomenon in our household. How are these tiny critters so LOUD? And why are they so hard to find? Last spring we finally figured out how to spot them.

Wood frog eggs by The Natural Capital
The frogs are noisy because they're looking to mate. Spring peepers lay their eggs in out-of-the-way places, but we often find wood frog eggs in March, easily visible in vernal ponds in many of the local parks.

Photo credit: cyanocorax
Spring Beauties are not a showy flower, but we find them dainty and adorable. They're one of the first spring ephemerals: perennial flowers that emerge every spring on the forest floor, and they last a little longer than most.

Photo credit: Dandelion and Burdock
Bittercress is less adorable, but more abundant than spring beauties -- and edible! Throw some in your spring salad mix for a vitamin-packed punch.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, adult male
Photo credit: bcfoto70
I love to watch yellow-bellied sapsuckers as they feed: they make a series of round holes in a tree's bark, then lap up the sap that comes out -- and the insects that are attracted to it. The yellow-bellied sapsucker is considered a "keystone" species by some ecologists because so many other birds rely on them, following along for their leftovers.
Canada Geese
Photo credit: Henry McLin
As the sapsuckers are coming to town, the Canada Geese are leaving. We've seen several flocks over the last few days.

Photo credit: Gene Han
Woodcocks are much harder to spot, but they'll put on even more of a show than the sapsuckers and the geese, if you can find them.

Want more? See also the list of things we found on a walk we took in mid-March a couple of years ago.