Yes, it’s really possible!
Thanks to the work of many government agencies, utilities, nonprofits and advocates in the District and in Maryland, the Anacostia River is turning around. On some days out of the year in 2018, the river passed health standards for swimming, according to the Department of Energy and Environment and Anacostia Riverkeeper.
The District Department of Energy and Environment and the National Park Service are working on a plan to clean up the bottom of the Anacostia River. So far, the studies show that the sediment does not pose a risk to swimmers, as long as they avoid contact with the bottom.
In 2018 (the “Year of the Anacostia”) the Department of Energy and Environment updated its regulations to permit swimming events in the Anacostia River as long as event organizers apply for a permit and pass water quality tests in the weeks leading up an event.
92% of respondents to a question about swimming said that they would swim in the Anacostia River when it is made safe and accessible to do so (out of 871 responses, as of February 2, 2019). It’s human nature to be drawn to water. We are investing so much in cleaning up our river, why not make it safe to do the most natural thing—jump in?
The Department of Parks and Recreation identified many of the neighborhoods surrounding the Anacostia River as target neighborhoods for additional splash pads and water-based recreation facilities in its 2015 Play DC Vision Plan.
The Anacostia River Pool will be for everyone. Pools in DC used to be segregated, and many African American children learned how to swim in the Anacostia River in the ‘50s and ‘60s instead of the safety of a supervised pool. The Anacostia River Pool can reclaim the river as a fun and safe environment for all DC kids to learn how to swim.
Swimming facilities have been built in restored waters around the world, and the District is one of many U.S. cities preparing to swim in its urban river.
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There are days when it is safe to swim in the river, but it is currently illegal to swim outside of permitted events. The river is getting better but it is not always safe to swim, and the sediment can currently pose a risk to waders.
It will take time to plan and prepare for a swimming facility in the river, and we want to make sure that a pool can be created as soon as possible as restoration efforts are completed. We are talking about swimming now, even though the river isn’t yet fully restored, because we want to make sure that planning efforts around the river incorporate the need for access to swimming.