By Southwester Staff

The District’s tireless Congresswoman and champion, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced in July that she was able to include in the House’s Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA), a major water infrastructure bill, a provision that would help accelerate the cleanup of harmful sediments in and around the federal navigation channel in the Anacostia River. The provision changes the parameters in terms of depth and coordinates of the federal navigation channel. 

Norton’s provision supports the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment’s (DOEE) plan to remediate the Anacostia River, a priority for the Congresswoman, by either dredging or capping toxic sediment to make the river safe for wildlife and District residents. This plan is called the Anacostia River Sediment Project.

“As chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, I am very grateful to my colleagues on the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee for including this important provision for the District and the surrounding region in WRDA,” Norton said. “The Anacostia River has long been a major priority for me, and this provision is necessary to continue the progress being made on cleanup of the river. This provision will allow DOEE to move forward with its plans for sediment remediation in the Anacostia River more quickly and at a lower overall cost. This is a major victory for our city.”

Due to sediment accumulation over time, many parts of the federal navigation channel in the Anacostia do not meet the current formal depth requirements of the federal navigation channel. In the absence of a partial deauthorization, in order to move forward with its plan for sediment remediation, DOEE would have had to dredge all the way down to the full depth of 24 feet in many places, a depth that is inconsistent with existing and anticipated future uses of the Anacostia River. Extensive dredging is not necessary to restore the river and would be very time consuming and expensive and make the overall remediation project much more difficult. 

The deauthorization that the Congresswoman got included in WRDA changes the parameters of the federal navigation channel so that DOEE will not have to dredge down quite as far in some areas and can move forward with simply capping toxic sediment in other areas. This will decrease the cost of the project for the District and other stakeholders, and avoid unnecessary delay in the District’s work to achieve a fishable, swimmable Anacostia River for residents. 

Norton’s victory comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, which alleged that chemical giant Monsanto polluted all the waterways in the District, including the Potomac and the Anacostia, with PCBs (outlawed in 1979). The settlement was worth $52 million and the money will be used to clean up D.C.’s waterways in order to make them safe and usable, even for swimming.

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