The Potomac Conservancy released its eighth annual State of the Nation’s River Report on Nov.11, with a call to urgent action in preserving the region’s water quality as rapid growth comes to the area.
According to the report, three major threats face the Potomac River: sprawl in suburban areas, loss of healthy forests in rural areas and aging sewer infrastructure in urban areas.
“We’re seeing a trend now with rapid urbanization that the source of pollution is growing and there is polluted runoff in the urban areas,” said Hedrick Belin, president of the Potomac Conservancy. “Unless we change the path we’re on, the course we’re on, the progress that we’ve made will be overwhelmed shortly by this additional polluted runoff.”
The Potomac River is in better condition than it was 40 years ago, Belin said , but there is still a ways to go.
“Population growth and development will bring positive changes to our region,” Belin said. “But left unplanned, growth could instead spell disaster for the health of our lands, waterways, and drinking water sources. Simple and low-cost actions now, at the local and county level, can make a huge difference in preventing a water crisis in the future.”
The Potomac Conservancy is working to preserve local water quality. According to Belin, in the Washington, D.C. metro area most people get their water from the Potomac. Residents from Prince George’s County get their drinking water from the Potomac River.
“Whatever goes into the streams and rivers northwest of D.C. ultimately flows into the Potomac where drinking water comes from,” said Belin. “More urban areas like the D.C. metro area are seeing more and more issues with old infrastructure failing and raw sewage washing un-drained into the Potomac and Rock Creek. We want to use smart planning now to combat some of these issues.”
The solution to the problems cited in the report, the researchers say, is to remove human waste from the water by upgrading stormwater and sewage infrastructure and enforcing existing laws against littering and the dumping of hazardous materials into the waterways. Making an investment in affordable, nature-based solutions like urban tree canopy will also reduce polluted runoff and beautify communities.
Nicholas DiPasquale, Director of Chesapeake Bay Program, encourages what he calls environmental literacy. He said the process of saving the Potomac River affects Prince George’s County in terms of waste water treatment plans. The state has actually imposed more stringent requirements in stormwater management.
“If there’s a waste water treatment plan in the community then certainly that would be affected by some of the pollution control requirements that would be needed to achieve water quality standards,” said DiPasquale. “A lot of times, the local governments will take responsibility for proper land use and they’ll require that developmental only take place in certain areas.”
Belin said he thinks the Potomac Conservancy’s plan to preserve the Potomac is working but will take time.
“I think it’s going to be a decade-long effort,” said Belin. “…It was a four decades focus on mostly sewer and waste water treatment plans and billions of dollars spent in upgrading them. That’s making a difference.”