Gauging Awareness on the Anacostia

Report Finds Many Residents Unaware Of River’s State, But Support Cleanup

Posted February 4, 2005 at 5:13pm

By John McArdle Roll Call Staff A newly released report sponsored by several D.C.-based advocacy groups shows that while many residents in the District and Maryland are unaware of the extent of the problems facing the Anacostia River, an overwhelming number of them support cleaning up the severely polluted river.

The report, “Building Support for Restoring the Anacostia River,” and accompanying polling of District residents was released last week and is the first effort in more than a decade to gauge public opinion on Anacostia clean-up efforts.

Linda Howard, executive director of the Summit Fund of Washington, one of the groups that commissioned the project, said she believes that having an accurate picture of the public’s understanding of the river will help local environmental groups in shaping their messages to policy makers and advocating effectively.

The report found that while local parks and waterways are important to area residents, most residents know very little about the Anacostia or its 176-square-mile watershed, which mostly lies in Maryland. While almost everyone knew the river was polluted, most do not know that the pollution stems from a combination of contaminated rainwater runoff and trash from watershed areas, years of neglect and environmentally destructive flood-preservation projects and D.C.’s antiquated combined sewer system.

One poll, of 502 likely voters in the District, found that once people learned that the river is one of the most degraded urban waterways in the country, 77 percent thought cleaning up the river should be a “very important” issue for the District. Also, 89 percent thought it was “very important” that the District work with Prince George’s and Montgomery counties to clean up the river.

Doug Siglin, a 12-year environmental lobbying veteran and director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Anacostia River initiative, was a member of the advisory panel that created the report. He said he wasn’t surprised to find that so many people aren’t aware of the problems that face the Anacostia River but was glad the public understands that cleaning the river “has to be done as a cooperative effort with the federal government, the District of Columbia, the state of Maryland and the two Maryland counties that contribute to the pollution.”

As the 109th Congress begins, Siglin said he hopes that the many problems facing the Anacostia will not be lost on Members, many of whom live just a stone’s throw from the river during the work week.

“As Congress puts together the Water Redevelopment Act, it has the opportunity to do something really important for the Anacostia, which is to insist on the creation of … a comprehensive plan for cleaning up the river.”

He said an overall strategic plan is necessary with all the varying groups that are needed in this effort.

“There has been a substantial amount of interest from both Democrats and Republicans on this because both sides understand how important the Anacostia is to the quality of life in the nation’s capital,” Siglin said.

The national public opinion research firm Lake Snell Perry & Associates conducted the report and polling between August and December 2004. The report included focus groups of Congressional staffers, developers, land owners and residents in D.C. and Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

“People were stunned to find out just how polluted it was,” Howard said. “Some people think that there’s one big polluter, that if you stop that one polluter the river will be clean. There’s a real lack of understanding about where the pollution comes from.”