Pol­lu­tion down, fish re­cov­er­ing in Po­tomac

River’s health given a C in con­ser­vancy’s re­port

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY MERED­ITH SOMERS

The Po­tomac River earned an over­all grade of C on its 2013 State of the Na­tion’s River re­port card, a step in the right di­rec­tion from its pre­vi­ous D, con­ser­va­tion­ists said, but a score that leaves much room for im­prove­ment.

Pol­lu­tion is down and fish pop­u­la­tions are up, ac­cord­ing to the Po­tomac Con­ser­vancy’s re­port, but the growth rate of un­der­wa­ter grass — a key in­di­ca­tor of a healthy river — dropped be­low 40 per­cent for the first time in seven years.

“Our 2013 re­port shows the Po­tomac River is mov­ing to­ward re­cov­ery,” said Hedrick Belin, pres­i­dent of the Po­tomac Con­ser­vancy. “The re­port also doc­u­ments some trou­bling signs that are on the hori­zon.”

Though still a prob­lem, waste­water lev­els earned an A-mi­nus from the con­ser­vancy for reach­ing an 82 per­cent com­pli­ancy rate for treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties to meet wa­ter qual­ity stan­dards. Ni­tro­gen loads were down, as were sed­i­ment loads. Phos­pho­rus lev­els, how­ever, re­main a prob­lem.

And while more than 50 per­cent of the non­ti­dal streams in the Po­tomac River Ba­sic had good or fair wa­ter qual­ity, nearly 37 per­cent of those streams were in poor or very poor con­di­tion.

“We are still learn­ing what a re­stored Po­tomac might look like,” said Claire Buchanan, as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of Aquatic Habi­tats at the In­ter­state Com­mis­sion on the Po­tomac River Basin. “We’re find­ing out achiev­ing one goal of the ecosys­tem does not nec­es­sar­ily mean achiev­ing the goal of other fea­tures.”

The re­port cov­ers five key in­di­ca­tors of the river’s health: fish, habi­tat, pol­lu­tion, land and peo­ple.

Last year the Po­tomac was named Amer­ica’s Most En­dan­gered River by the Amer­i­can Rivers group.

“It’s a mixed set of grades there, and no big sur­prises,” said Rich Batiuk, se­nior vice res­i­dent for sci­ence at the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. “There’s been good, solid progress on the waste­water front, but there’s more work to do.”

Mr. Belin said the big­gest threat to the river is pol­luted rain­wa­ter runoff, the re­sult of the “ex­plo­sion

of de­vel­op­ment” that led to im­per­me­able sur­faces that can­not ab­sorb rain wa­ter.

The pol­lu­tion caused by runoff is in­creas­ing, ac­cord­ing to the con­ser­vancy’s re­port, and the only way to ad­dress it is to work with prop­erty own­ers and lo­cal lead­ers to en­sure smart build­ing prac­tices are ap­plied to fu­ture de­vel­op­ment projects.

Mr. Belin said the con­ser­vancy plans a three-pronged ap­proach to cut­ting back on pol­lu­tion: work­ing to in­crease fund­ing for wa­ter pro­grams, strength­en­ing reg­u­la­tory laws at the lo­cal level and es­tab­lish­ing pro­grams that pro­vide in­cen­tives to prop­erty own­ers “so they can do the right thing.”

“The fate of the na­tion’s river is in the hands of lo­cal plan­ning boards, city coun­cil mem­bers and com­mis­sion­ers,” Mr. Belin said. “At the end of the day, we need lead­er­ship at the lo­cal level in terms of so­lu­tions. The fight at the lo­cal level is where this will ei­ther be won or lost.”

AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Pol­lu­tion is down in the Po­tomac River, ac­cord­ing to the Po­tomac Con­ser­vancy’s re­port, but the growth rate of un­der­wa­ter grass — an in­di­ca­tor of a healthy river — has dropped be­low 40 per­cent for the first time in seven years.

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