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THE RIVER BENEATH THE RIVER

As part of an ongoing effort to attain content more accessible, LAM will be building select tales available to readers in Spanish. For a complete list of carried sections, please click here .

Click above for a full PDF of the translated text, with English text available below. BY JENNIFER REUT FROM THE NOVEMBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE .

For a long time, the Anacostia River didn’t even have a epithet. It was just the Eastern Branch, the other, less promising section of Washington , D.C.’s better known and more distinguished river, the Potomac. But it was always known as a fortunate course to the Nacotchtank, the Native Americans who use it as a trading post, and later to the European settlers who relied on the river’s deep port at Bladensburg, Maryland, to carry tobacco, and to the generations of farmers, tradesmen, and laborers who never seemed to run out of fish, poultry, and play to hunt. For virtually nine miles, the Anacostia eased in and out with the tide, with no particular importance, toward its confluence with the Potomac, tracing an unhurried flowing through thousands of acres of tidal wetlands.

Of course, that was before the port and the shipping channels silted up in the 19 th century from agricultural misuse; before the river was reddened with sewage, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls( PCBs) that embedded in the sediment and eventually in the fisheries industry populations that fed local residents; before sections were channelized and controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer; before the information was the area of an open-fire landfill that killed a seven-year-old child, Kelvin Tyrone Mock, and regularly spewed toxic smoke into the city’s mainly African American neighborhoods; before more than 600 tons of junk detected its path into the river per year. Before all that, the Anacostia was abundant.

The tidal flow of the river is slow, stranding rubbish and other pollutants on its banks. Photo by Krista Schlyer.

And so it may be again, if in a more modest course. This year, 2018, is the Year of the Anacostia , a gala of the past 15 years of try is devoted to transforming the river through economic, transportation, sport, and ecological initiatives spearheaded by the District of Columbia, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency( EPA ), and dozens of nonprofit citizen organisations. Fifteen years ago, when the city of Washington , D.C ., liberated the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative Framework Plan , the river was a national embarrassment–an example of environmental omissions writ large-scale onto the city’s poorest and more vulnerable. Stimulation by the 1972 Clean Water Act, the city is now purporting for a fishable, swimmable river by 2032, though the Anacostia Watershed Society , a local advocacy company, is targeting 2025. Privately, some environmental exponents tell me the river is also available swimmable even sooner.

The story of the Anacostia River( which ultimately bought a epithet were obtained from indigenous nomenclature) could easily be written as a parable for all the woes we have visited on our urban waterways and on vulnerable communities trapped in the most difficult environmental cataclysms. Now poised on the edge of a hard-won environmental recuperation, the river might become yet another case study in urban waterfront rehabilitation and exploding economic evolution, followed by gentrification and displacement and a sense of unhappines, if not action, over lost opportunities and a lost sense of place.

That the Anacostia flows through the east side of the nation’s capital, cutting off the city’s poorest people and isolating their vicinities from its more prosperous mainland, as it were, farther invites spectators to draw pointed similarities between the river’s narrative and the country’s inability to confront the interdependencies of race and environmental and economic justice. The eastside neighborhoods are mainly female and African American. They suffer the city’s highest prevalence of asthma, cancer, and child mortality, to name just a few of the considerable health benchmarks that disproportionately alter inhabitants. There is a chronic deficiency of services and economic investment.

Those stories are all true-life, but the similarities can be heavy handed. They prevent you from hearing the river as a unique human ecology. The river deserves a better tale. The Anacostia deserves complexity.

One of the river’s many tributary creeks and brooks. Photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy, Affiliate ASLA.

Krista Schlyer is a conservation photographer and columnist who lives near the river’s upper reaches in Maryland and has spent several years observing and photographing the Anacostia. Her book, River of Redemption: Almanac of Life on the Anacostia( Texas A& M University Press, 2018 ), records the convalescence of the river habitat, but likewise the persistence of pollution and continued environmental emergencies. It’s the coexistence of these two characters that shapes the Anacostia unexpectedly compelling.

The recovery of the river ecosystem is most visible in the rebound and perseverance of wildlife, particularly in the stretching of the river around Kingman and Heritage Islands and the National Arboretum . For D.C. occupants familiar with a different, more contaminated version of the river, the natural environment Schlyer captures is nothing less than astounding. A recent BioBlitz logged more than 550 species in the Anacostia watershed. Paddlers upriver may encounter bald-pated eagles, osprey, cormorants, and beaver amongst the plastic bottles and occasional store go-carts. Schlyer says the reduction of scum has been the most visible change. “It’s still there. It’s still a huge problem. But it’s noticeably different from 2010 when I really started doing this. That’s a big thing, because it changes the space that people feel when they spend time on the river, ” she says. “Of course, the committee is problems that are much deeper and most complex than trash.”

In 2005, the D.C. government, the U.S. Department of Justice, the EPA, and the city’s ocean authority entered into a consent decree intended to bring the city into compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act, which requires metropolis to command level generator pollutants that discharge into their waterways. One-third of Washington , D.C.’s land–primarily its historic core and older neighborhoods–flushes sags, tubs, and toilets into a combined sewer system that carries both sanitary and cyclone flows, rather than into a most modern separate cyclone sewer system. When those combined sewers are overwhelmed, which happens about 75 times per year on average, the combined sewer overflow( or CSO) drains directly into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, as well as Rock Creek, a waterway within a national park that flows through the city’s central spine, at 47 outfalls in the District. According to the city’s ocean power, the CSOs dump virtually 2,142 million gallons into the Anacostia River and 1,063 million gallons into the Potomac annually. Rock Creek has about half that many annual overflow events ensuing in 49 million gallons. Stormwater runoff includes street scum and vehicle pollution such as metals and petroleums, as well as fecal bacteria from dogs and other animals, and it joins the sewage overflow in the combined sewers on their trip into the Anacostia River. Preaches am telling the fecal bacteria dumped into the liquid from cyclone events is by far the Anacostia’s largest source of bacterial pollution.

Image courtesy Dolly Holmes.

In 2000, the Anacostia Watershed Society, together with several local organizations, filed a civil complaint against the city’s water utility, DC Water( then the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority) to force it relating to the CSO pollution in the river. Those advocacy groups were later joined by the EPA and the Justice Department. The make, a consent edict by a federal judge, necessitated the city and the water authority to spell out how they were going to address the thousands of gallons of sewage and stormwater that were pouring into the river. That programme , now called the Clean Rivers Project, will reportedly expense $2.7 billion.

Jim Foster is the president of the Anacostia Watershed Society, one of the original parties in the approval decree. He says these arrangements was particularly challenging because DC Water was required to reduce CSOs by a whopping 98 percentage, but that merely performing the preventive upkeep required under the permission decree actually reduced the sewage flows by half. Complicating the cleanup, nonetheless, was the unique governance existing relations the city and all federal departments, which owns much of the ground in and around the river. Washington , D.C ., did not achieve what is called Home Rule authority–the ability to nominally govern itself–until 1973, and the federal government owns 29 percent of the District’s land, much of it through the National Park Service, for which it pays no real estate taxes. Foster says this scenario has been catastrophic for the river. “The federal government designed and constructed the system, and then they are only handed it over to the District. Didn’t give them any fund, any check, or anything, ” Foster says. “So the District was basically handed this hot mess.” The financial relationship with the federal government isn’t the only impact on the river. “The 176 square miles of watershed–the federal government owns 10 percentage of it. They alone, merely through their land use practises, impact our liquid character totally, ” Foster says.

The 1,200 -acre Anacostia Park has bike trails, barge docks, and a skating rink, but its most valuable amenity is the opportunity for Washingtonians to connect to the Anacostia River. Photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy, Affiliate ASLA.

Into this breach blossomed dozens of grassroots organizations that work on issues around the river–environmental, surely, but also education, job creation, resilience, youth developing, and recreation, simply to call a few. Erin Garnaas-Holmes is a project director for the Anacostia Waterfront Trust , a coordinating organisation cofounded by former Mayor Anthony Williams, who is widely credited with developing the vision to cleaning process and revitalize the river during his tenure in the early 2000 s. Garnaas-Holmes estimates that there are currently somewhere between 65 and 75 nonprofit and government agencies working on river issues in some capacity, to say nothing of the members of the working group, partnerships, arranging committees, and other coalitions that have formed around common objective. Garnaas-Holmes has a background in urban development and landscape architecture that serves him well as someone who must arrange among many disparate groups, but it has also enabled him to see how issues like housing and ocean tone might need to be connected in the Anacostia River. “How do you mix environmental restoration with a exchange about vicinity security and affordable dwelling and gentrification at large, and how do you create a process that incorporates those two things at once? ” he questions. Inducing those linkages now and finding a way to have everyone pull in the same direction is key to reaping the investment for the people , not just the river.

The original plan to enforce restraints on combined sewer discharge, set in 2005, was primarily to construct passageways to hold stormwater and catch up on upkeep. But in 2009, George Hawkins came on board as the brand-new general manager of DC Water. Hawkins had suggestions other than for tunnels. He preached for implementing bioretention and other infiltration measures–green infrastructure–in some of the areas that ultimately drain to the river. Seth Charde is a landscape architect and the programme administrator for green infrastructure construction at DC Water. “Around 2011, we started looking at green infrastructure as a solution for managing volume and preventing mixed sewer overflows, ” he says. Dark-green infrastructure could work in concert with passageways for the Potomac and Rock Creek watersheds, but it was thought to be insufficient for the Anacostia, where the volume of stormwater was too great and the tidal river was too sluggish to discharge bacteria and reflow oxygenated ocean. Plus, the stomach for derailing the massive passageway programme was not great.

The consent decree was modified in 2016 to deploy detainees and infiltration strategies where they seemed to make sense, but not along the critically polluted Anacostia sewershed, which is partly why there is now a mix of tunnels, detention, and light-green infrastructure strategies used to manage the city’s stormwater along the various different waterways. The primary tunnels strategy as part of the Clean Rivers Project are the Potomac, Anacostia, and Northeast Boundary tunnels. They bracket the city’s mixed sewer network on the outside as separate systems. When they are complete, DC Water expects to reduce stormwater volume in the rivers by 96 percent.

Earlier this year, the Anacostia River Tunnel came online, the first of the three strategy tunnels, which will all are totally built and functioning by 2023. The theory of the passageways is fairly straightforward. The passageways will capture stormwater and transport it beneath the river to the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant on the east side of the Potomac, where it will be processed and liberated back into the river as clean ocean that flows to the Chesapeake Bay. The structure is gravity fed through a series of diverters that move the water from the sewers.

DC Water’s stable of charismatic boring machines now numbers four. Image courtesy DC Water.

Sewers and sewerage might be the urban necessary least likely to acquire the patina of chill that adornment more glamorous infrastructure such as bridges and electrical substations, but DC Water has been inventive in its outreach to win over the public. Each of the massive tunnel boring machines( TBMs) to be applied for uncovering the passageways was called, blessed( together with older workers ), and given Twitter handles in a festive public media event. Like hot rods, watercraft, and hurricanes before 1979, tradition has prescribed that TBMs must be identified after wives. The TBMs for the Clean Rivers Project include Lady Bird( for Claudia “Lady Bird” Alta Taylor Johnson, an environmentalist and a former First lady of the United States ), Nannie( for Nannie Helen Burroughs, an instructor ), Lucy( for Lucy Diggs Slowe, the first female dean of Howard University ), and the newest TBM, the Northeast Boundary Tunnel’s Chris, which transgressed with tradition to honor Christopher Allen, the Clean Rivers assistant head who died before the project’s finish. The TBMs are extensively documented on DC Water’s YouTube canal .

After the Anacostia tunnel opened this March, a extremely wet year in D.C. let the tunnel’s efficacy to be tested rapidly( in 2018, the city had reached the typical annual rainfall of 40 inches by late August ). A few weeks after opening, the cyclone dumped around two inches of rain on individual regions, and DC Water proclaimed that the tunnel avoided 170 million gallons of stormwater and waste from flowing into the Anacostia. As of this writing, DC Water estimates that the passageway has prevented 2.4 billion gallons of combined sewage and 146 tons of litter from entering the Anacostia River.

Image courtesy Dolly Holmes.

Water quality in the Anacostia, including the measures provided for in melted oxygen, pH, chlorophyll, magnitude, and turbidity, is monitored by the city’s Department of Energy& Environment( DOEE ), but the department’s data is supplemented considerably by local preservation organisations, including Anacostia Riverkeeper and the Anacostia Watershed Society. Both organizations do constant public outreach, hosting free weekly tours of the river, fishing nighttimes, cleanups, and other activities meant to get people down to the river. They also keep the pressure on the city and federal government.

Anacostia Riverkeeper tests mainly for E. coli, fecal bacteria that are highest in the river after cyclones overwhelm the CSOs, and they report their findings to the DOEE as well as through the Swim Guide app and other online canals. There are warning lights around for boaters, if you know where to gaze, but as the recreational attractions of the river increase, so does the likelihood that people might end up more wet than not. Technically, the river is classified not swimmable at any time, but people fish, dip their paws in, jump out of kayaks and off paddleboards, and generally find it difficult to keep their hands in the boat.

The city’s bag tax has been good for the river. Fund from the 2009 constitution, which required dealers to accuse patrons five cents for every plastic and paper bag used, funds a variety of efforts at the Anacostia, including education and brook restoration as well as the Anacostia Riverkeeper and Anacostia Watershed Society public tours, which are free and open to anyone from late springtime to late autumn. The cost has also likely lessened bag utilization, greatly curtailing the increasing numbers of plastic bags that make their way into the river seas. Trey Sherard, the riverkeeper at Anacostia Riverkeeper, says his group has recognized a big reduction in the number of bags they pull out of trash nets since the tax was enforced. Now, if they could just banning plastic water bottles.

The bacteria from CSOs is the single biggest source of pollution in the river, but it is not the only one. The Anacostia’s lazy tidal flow lets bacteria in the ocean, as well as substance pollutants from the enterprises and construction sites and plain age-old garbage, to stew, along with the previously existing toxic sediment that cables the river in some homes. Addressing the polluted sediment has been a more complicated struggle. Some of the sediment pollutants are from legacy industries or utilities that operated in the 19 th century; others are from the federal government.

Image courtesy Dolly Holmes.

The DOEE has identified 14 potential cleanup sites along the river–places where chemicals have leached into and bonded with the river sediment, and where examine and remediation will have to roll out gradually. PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, pesticides such as Chlordane, and metals such as arsenic and mercury are among the compounds found in these sites. Sherard said today DDT still shows up, extending off the former agricultural land that is disturbed by all the new construction and embed in the sediment. For people who are dive or working in or near the sea in those areas, or angling, the level of compound exposure is a concern.

The DOEE’s Anacostia River Sediment Project focuses on a nine-mile tidal region of the Anacostia, but also the Washington Channel, a harbor zone that reaches the Jefferson Memorial, and a bit of the confluence where the river gratifies the Potomac. Areas of regard or “hot spots” include the Navy Yard and the Southeast Federal Center, and Poplar Point, the site of the old gasworks, each adjacent to schemed or completed new developments that the city has been banking on to brought under revenue.

Gretchen Mikeska is the coordinator for the Anacostia River Sediment Project and a longtime boater on the Anacostia, and has been collecting and examining data about how people use the river as part of DOEE’s public outreach. She says the city is moving into the usefulnes stage of development projects now, and expects to present possible remedies and recommendations to the public sometime in the winter.

In 2000, then-Mayor Anthony Williams began to spell out the imagination for the Anacostia Waterfront, an effort that brought together 19 metropolitan and federal entities that would eventually sign on to the “waterfront revitalization endeavor.” In 2003, the city’s office of the scheme, then staffed by Director Andrew Altman, with Toni L. Griffin as the deputy director for revitalization and vicinity planning, developed the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative Framework Plan, a document that began to spell out a holistic imagination for the waterfront–parks, ecological recovery, improved transportation options, strong vicinities, better contacts, new development, and economic revitalization. The imagination record seemed bold at the time–the river was foul and frightening, and its trash-strewn environs a mixture of industrial wasteland and vacant lots–but it picked up some of the international strategy from metropolitans like Boston and Barcelona, which have succeeded in redeveloped their polluted waterfronts into public amenities.

It’s happening fast now–at Buzzard Point, less than a mile upstream from the Anacostia’s mouth, the new Audi Field , a $400 million soccer stadium for D.C. United, ran up in a scant 16 months and opened in July of this year. The 11th Street Bridge Park , budgeted to expenditure around $50 million, is scheduled to break ground in 2019 and includes an innovative Equitable Development Plan that is being watched by many as a stop on resident displacement. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently tipped a spade on the $489 million evolution all over the area of RFK Stadium immediately east of the U.S. Capitol above the river. Gardens Park, a beautifully designed small-minded public park between DC Water’s brand-new sustainability showplace construct and a mixed-use development of eateries and boardwalks, set up in 2011, and quickly began attracting families from nearby Capitol Hill.

With the 2008 financial crisis still echoing in the city’s evolution sector, there has been decidedly more public exchange about the vulnerability of the river’s adjacent neighborhoods to gentrification, a problem that is surely a sign of success in other forms. The popularity of one riverside project that recently opened, the District Wharf , a$ 2 billion mixed-use food and entertainment magnet next to the city’s last remaining fresh seafood markets, help us to substantiate the concerns of some critical beholders and brought more pressure on the city and developers to increase safeguards against displacement of existing businesses and residents.

All of these high-dollar marquee growths, with the exception of the 11 th Street Bridge, fall on the west back of the river, the side that forms the leading edge of the now-prosperous federal city. Along the eastern bank is perhaps the river’s greatest and least-known asset, the 1,200 -acre Anacostia Park. The park extends the length of the river’s eastern bank, and includes much of the northern reaches on the west side as well. In reality, the National Park Service operates and maintains the majority of the property that stretches down both sides of the river and its banks in the District. Among the park’s assets are Kenilworth Park& Aquatic Gardens, the only skating pavilion owned by the National Park Service, several picnic fields, a ship dock, and many unprogrammed fields of play. Woven through the park’s open meadows is the Anacostia River Trail, a multimodal course that invites cyclists, scooters, and pedestrians.

The mile-long part of the waterfront( with this wharf design by Michael Vergason Landscape Architect) was among the most expensive jobs in Washington , D.C.’s record. Photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy, Affiliate ASLA.

Behind the park’s open fields, and largely cut off from the river by a twisting of superhighways, are some two dozen vicinities that make up the city east of the river. Largely African American and the victims of years of disinvestment and outright neglect, these are the neighborhoods with both the most to lose and “the worlds largest” to gain from the rebirth of the Anacostia River.

Garnaas-Holmes says that the existing resource of Anacostia Park can be a mode to secure the community in place if changes are focused on the existing inhabitants, including the elderly and households with young children, rather than on attracting beginners. “If they’re done in a way that’s targeting audiences that live right next to it and have the most are benefiting from it, I think if that’s actually intentional, it’ll likewise help to steer away from flipping a park for a theoretical audience that leads to the lack of a sense of owned and then slowly changes who uses the park over time.” For a region like Anacostia Park, that requires using existing resources in new ways.

Akiima Price is an environmental consultant whose operate focuses on connecting urban communities of color with nature, particularly those suffering stress or trauma. In Anacostia Park, she is working on programs to help the park service and its partners strengthen the park as a community resource , not just an amenity. She echoes the feeling of Garnaas-Holmes and others working in the east river communities in emphasizing that there are directions the park and its river collaborators can better meet the needs of local residents, and she is both strategic and innovative in her approach to developing opportunities to connect people to the park and the river in a way that welfares both. That could just be tweaking what organizations are already doing, such as barge tours, to offer a home for other populations, such as those re-entering culture after captivity. “Maybe it’s a father-son nature fraternity, with the objective of the parents and the sons mending their relationship–not so much better hearing the eagle, though that will happen and be a part of what establishes that so transformative.” From there, says Price, a connection to the Anacostia River as a stage for that change might yield a sense of stewardship down the road. And the river will always require people to rave about it.

Photo by Krista Schlyer.

The Year of the Anacostia has allowed the city to tout what’s been accomplished since the Anacostia River framework plan was released in 2003, to bring new people to the ocean, and to reintroduce the uneasy longtime tenants to the improving river. As the sediment removal programme begins to move forward, there’s a possibility that a yet-to-be-imagined version of the Anacostia River might burst forth from its toxic mudflats in the near future. But there’s a strain between the painstaking reclamation endeavors, tries that have increased biodiversity, regenerated wetlands, re-established habitat, curtailed the flow of millions of pounds of sewage, and improved water excellence, and the ravenous tempo of structure nearby that had threatened to untied the task that is just beginning to change its own experience of the river. Jim Foster , not one to mince words, is sanguine about the pace of change. “This is a generational thing. We did this over 250 times. We’re not gonna solve it over the next four years.”

Jennifer Reut is the senior editor at the magazine.

Read more: landscapearchitecturemagazine.org

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