Mussel Power: Thousands of Mollusks Dropped Into Anacostia River to Clean it Up

The little mussels can filter 10 to 15 gallons of water every day

Thousands of mussels released into the Anacostia River Monday are part of a continued effort to clean up what was once considered one of America's most endangered waterways.

Volunteers and staff with the Anacostia Watershed Society dropped the freshwater mussels into the wetlands at Kenilworth Marsh Monday morning.

"We've put about eight thousand of them out here into the river at different locations," Anacostia Watershed Society President James Foster said.

While small, the dark-shelled mussels have a big job. They act as nature's water filters and eat pollutants, algae, plankton and bacteria such as E.coli. 

Just one mussel can filter 10 to 15 gallons of water in a day. Mussels deployed in the river as part of a pilot program last year have filtered more than 32 million gallons of water, the society says.

"We have found that the Anacostia River mussels are thriving - growing well and even reproducing!" the organization said in a release.

The organization keeps the mollusks in baskets at various points along the river, and checks on their growth monthly. Some of them get tagged and tracked. A sampling will also go to the University of Maryland for testing.

"We're going to look and see if mussels can take microplastics out of the water too," Foster said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced in August the Anacostia Watershed Society was the recipient of a $400,000 grant to build up its "#MusselPower" program.

A total of 35,000 mussels will be into the river with the help of 400 students who will learn about mussels and river ecology.

The organization's goal is for the river to be swimmable and fishable by 2025.

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