Anacostia River

Anacostia River Splash swim postponed until July after water testing

'So what a lot of people don't realize is that there's been a generation of work to bring us to this day right now,' the Anacostia's riverkeeper told us

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A swim event in the Anacostia River set for Saturday has been postponed for safety reasons after water testing levels came back high.

Saturday's event, the Anacostia River Splash, was supposed to be the first time in 50 years that people could swim in the river.

Samples taken Friday showed results "above E. coli recreational standards," organizers said in a statement.

Trey Sherard, the Anacostia riverkeeper, said he was in the water this week, but then readings came back indicating a recent storm had made the water unsafe.

"So our readings on Wednesday morning were beautiful," Sherard said. "That little storm came through Wednesday night. I only registered a quarter-inch of rain where I was in Northeast D.C., so we didn't think that would cause us any problems. There were no documented sewage overflows. So on Thursday morning, I was actually in the water to install the swim ladders that are behind us. And I didn't get -- I had no symptoms, I haven't been sick, but we took some follow up samples just actually out of academic interest yesterday, around morning. We got those samples back just this morning, and all four of those samples came back high enough that we are postponing the event."

Planners for the Anacostia River Splash said they'll try again July 13.

But swimming in the Anacostia at all would have been unimaginable if there hadn't been giant steps in progress and reclamation of this river.

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"So what a lot of people don't realize is that there's been a generation of work to bring us to this day right now," Sherard said. "DC Water got sued about 20 years ago for combined sewer overflows into this river. WSSC [Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission] and Prince George's County, Montgomery County where most of the watershed sits, they also got sued about 20 years ago, also under the Clean Water Act, for a lot of leaking and breaking sewer lines that had been undermined by stormwater runoff. And so they both settled, and they've both been doing 20 years of heavy-duty engineering and construction work."

He said a two-story, 12-mile-long tunnel in D.C. has reduced sewage from D.C. going into the Anacostia River by 98%.

"Similar work was done in WSSC, not with a tunnel, but with the scale of how many lines they were fixing and relining and relocating, and so what people don't see when we talk about, 'Hey, we're ready for a swim,' is that there's been 20 years of work to get us to this point in the first place," Sherard said.

An egret was sitting along the river's edge Saturday morning, another sign of the river's improved health.

Planners attempted to hold the event last year, but it was postponed at least twice due to heavy rain.

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