Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Potomac River

... is only about 15 minutes from our house and we pretty much go there for our walks every day. We've seen the river almost rise over the observation platform at Great Falls Park and we encountered days when the water level was so low that you could almost cross the river on foot to reach the MD side. (Not really - but you get my drift.)

This is what it looked like this morning. We definitely need rain !

I didn't post this picture to primarily show you the state of the river. No - I want you to look closely at the foamy stuff that is floating around in front of the run off pipe, which leads into the river just at that spot. Not visible to the naked eye are all the plastic bottles, garbage bags and other debris which float along the shores of this otherwise very scenic river.
People close their eyes. They don't want to see it. Some try to make a difference, but their efforts seem fruitless. Concerned citizens within the Commonwealth volunteer to protect their natural resources. They monitor the streams, rivers, and lakes in their backyard. There is no limit one's contribution: Be a water quality monitor, participate in stream cleanups and stream bank restoration, or help educate yourself and neighbors! For starters: Stop using chemicals on your lawns and pesticides.

Everybody can make a difference. If you're interested, read on about "the state of the nation's river":

Here some info about Potomac water quality:
Mind you that the Potomac at Great Falls belongs to the MD side. The MD side is 66% impaired, as far as pollution goes.


  • Of approximately 10,000 stream miles assessed in the watershed, more than 3,800 miles were deemed “threatened” or “impaired”.
  • The Potomac is one of the least dam-regulated large river systems in the eastern United States.
  • The Potomac has the highest level of nitrogen and the third highest level of phosphorus of all the major rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. These nutrients can limit the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation, cause low oxygen conditions and create deadzones.
  • Approximately 90% DC area drinking water comes from Potomac.
  • Between 1986 and 1999, Maryland averaged more than 6,000 acres of forest loss per year. Forests are capable of capturing up to 6 times more rain than grass alone and 20 times more rain than impervious surfaces, such as parking lots.
  • Over a 30-year period, the tree canopy in Washington, DC has declined by 16% and the stormwater runoff has increased by 34%.
  • Swimming is not an approved activity in the waters of the Potomac and Anacostia in the District of Columbia.
  • Effluent from wastewater treatment plants is currently the most notably identified point-source contribution of endocrine disrupting contaminants in the Potomac River.
  • Emerging contaminants in the Potomac include personal care products, pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications, agricultural pollution, animal feedlots, industrial byproducts, and biosolids.
  • In the last three decades, many areas in the watershed have seen their population more than double. A growing population alters and stresses the natural state of its land and water.
  • The Potomac watershed is expected to add more than 1 million people to its population over the next 20 years.
  • The most densely populated area in the watershed is the Middle Potomac, including Washington, DC, which is home to 3.72 or about 70% of the watershed’s population.
  • In the next 20 years, the population of the Potomac watershed is expected to grow 10% each decade, adding 1 million inhabitants to reach a population of 6.25 million.
  • An 80% prevalence of the intersex condition was reported in male smallmouth bass in the Shenandoah and Fork rivers of the Potomac in a 2002 USGS study.

  • View more news videos at:

  • EPA reviews anywhere from 1500-3000 “new” chemicals annually­­-- many of which enter Potomac waterways, undetected by wastewater treatment plants.
  • The combined sewer system in Washington, DC includes 53 combined sewer overflow outfalls in the Potomac watershed: 10 of which discharge to the main stem, 15 to the Anacostia River, and 28 to Rock Creek and its tributaries.
  • Along the Anacostia shoreline, 17 discharge locations result in 2-3 billion gallons of sewage overflow into the river each year.
  • The Potomac River delivers the largest amount of sediment to the Chesapeake Bay each year which can limit the growth and submerged aquatic vegetation and affect populations of all fish, shellfish and birds that depend on this vegetation as a source of food or shelter.
Please note: Sources include State of the Nation’s River reports 2007, 2008 and 2009, and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. (Source:Potomac Conservancy)

Another eye opener is "Poisoned Waters" which aired on PBS's "Frontline" last year:
This delicate system is fed by the billions of gallons of raw sewage brought in by none other than the Potomac River. No thanks to mankind, nature is taking a devastating beating.........
Once We Cared...Back in the 1970s, the public demanded action. Nixon's EPA sued big polluters, tackled auto emissions, banned DDT. What changed?

There are days where walking along the trails at Great Falls Park is anything but enjoyable. The smell of sewage follows you pretty much everywhere. Especially near the river bank and all the way on the carriage path along the swamp trail.

That park is near and dear to me and we enjoy it tremendously. We've been walking there now for over 20 years on a regular basis and looking at that polluted river makes me sad. There are people who don't see the importance of clean rivers and lakes, but to me it's an important issue.
Name one river in all of VA where you could jump in and go for a swim. I couldn't name ONE !

Two years ago Tessa got really sick from going swimming in a creek. Scary ! Real scary. :(
So don't tell me, the rivers and creeks are cleaner than they once were. They are just not clean enough ! Pollution is a ticking time bomb. We destroy nature slowly, yet we can not exist without nature. So why is it, that we destroy systematically what sustains our ability to live ?
It's up to each and every one of us to make a difference. Nature provided for us all her life. Now it's time to pay back and take care of her.

Comments welcomed !

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