The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia have announced a new Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) or “pollution diet” for trash in the impaired Anacostia River as directed by the federal Clean Water Act. The TMDL will require the capture or removal of more than 600 tons of trash from the Anacostia watershed each year, making the Anacostia the first interstate river in the country with a Clean Water Act limit on trash.
Officials believe limiting the amount of trash in the Anacostia watershed will be a step in the right direction toward a “fishable and swimmable” Anacostia River by the year 2032. Every year, hundreds of tons of trash and debris make their way to the Anacostia River either through illegal dumping or stormwater runoff carrying it into the river. This trash then flows downstream to the Potomac River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.
"This precedent-setting 'trash TMDL' is a multi-regional commitment to finally attack the trash traveling through our storm drain systems," said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson. "Trash has for too long been a problem in our waterways and communities – reducing trash and stormwater runoff is key to restoring the Anacostia River, the Potomac River and the Bay."
The Anacostia River was placed on both Maryland and the District’s impaired waters lists in 2006 due to this excessive amount of trash pollution.
The new pollution diet will also contribute to the five-year-old Trash-Free Potomac Watershed initiative, which the Alice Ferguson Foundation celebrated by holding its fifth annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit this week. The summit included a ceremonial signing of the Potomac Watershed Trash Treaty as well as roundtables and exhibits on enforcement, composting, public education and regulation.
The initiative is working to have a trash-free Potomac by the year 2013, with a campaign using public education and market-based approaches, including the District’s 5-cent tax on plastic bags.
Trash in our rivers is not only unappealing from an aesthetic standpoint, making our natural areas more difficult to enjoy, but it can also cause serious damage to wildlife and habitats. The health of our local waterways, including the reduction of trash flowing to them, is vital to the health and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay cannot be fully restored if its tributaries are unhealthy and plagued by pollution.
A TMDL, as required by the Clean Water Act, establishes the amount of a given pollutant that a water body can take without compromising water quality standards. The state and District’s new stormwater regulations will work in coordination with the TMDL to reduce the amount of trash entering the Anacostia River.