We wanted to know if it was possible to make swimming in the Anacostia River safe, fun, accessible and inviting to all, so the Anacostia Waterfront Trust asked SmithGroup, an architecture, engineering and planning firm, to complete a feasibility study for a river pool in 2018.
Sometimes, yes! And water quality is getting better. Despite its reputation, the water of the Anacostia River is becoming cleaner. In 2018, the Anacostia River received its first passing grade from the Anacostia Watershed Society, and based on regular water quality monitoring by the Anacostia Riverkeeper in 2019, the river is safe for swimming on certain days (but not all the time).
There’s still work to be done, but we are on our way thanks to significant investments new infrastructure like DC Waters’ Clean Rivers project and years of restoration efforts in the upper watershed in Maryland. The District Department of Energy and Environment has created a new program to support additional monitoring of the Anacostia River to watch this trend, and the agency has also changed its regulations to allow swimming in the Anacostia River during certain permitted events.
2018: 89% reduction in combined sewer overflow due to DC Water’s Clean Rivers DC project. By 2023, expect a 98% reduction.
2018: First passing grade for the Anacostia River on the Anacostia Watershed Society State of the River Report Card.
Anacostia River Sediment Project will lead to the restoration of the river bottom
New DOEE Regulations permit swimming
Anacostia Riverkeeper Monitoring provides a live snapshot of water quality during the spring, summer and fall
Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund (DC’s Bag Tax) has reduced plastic bag pollution
Anacostia River Trash Traps keep floatable trash out of the river
Yes. Cities all over the world are restoring and reimagining their waterfronts that were once polluted industrial landscapes. A number of cities have created swimming platforms and “harbor baths,” allowing people to swim directly in restored waters. Other cities are looking into creating their own swimming areas, just like we are.
Islands Brygge Harbor Bath - Copenhagen
Bassin de la Villette - Paris
Seebad Enge - Zurich
Thames Bath - London
The Anacostia River Pool initiative is in a very early exploration stage and is considering many different models for swim facilities. The “pool” could be a full-size lap pool, a shallow splash pad, a deep pool safe for diving, or something that includes all of these. The goal of the swimming facility will be to allow people to swim or wade directly in the clean river water without filtration.
Shallow wading pool and/or splash pad
General swimming area: 4-9 feet deep
Diving board/jumping area
Pool deck with space for walking and lounging
Restrooms/showers/changing rooms (these could also be on adjacent land)
Additional swimming pools or water experiences suitable for narrow sections of the river
Reception/Ticketing booth (these could also be on adjacent land)
Space for sunbathing, food trucks, picnics, etc. on nearby lawn area
Use of sustainable design elements such as floating vegetation, solar panels, green roofs, and recycled materials
Natural filtration and other ecological enhancements
Capable of hosting other kinds of events during non-pool hours such as concerts, movie nights or fitness classes.
Capable of accommodating space for kayaks or paddleboards
Pool or components could be moved to different sites along the Anacostia River
Accessible by walking, bicycling, transit and driving
Accommodating of all ages, economic circumstances, and abilities
Integrated shoreline restoration or ecological enhancement
We are investigating 9 different locations where the Anacostia River Pool could be located. There could potentially be multiple facilities. A facility could be designed differently in each of these locations. Read the feasibility study for more details.
The feasibility study answered some of our big initial questions about swimming in the river, but there are more questions to be answered. We plan to continue to work with partners to look into technical issues at the same time that we meet with community members and stakeholders to discuss how a swim facility could best serve DC residents.
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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.
We do not yet have an estimate for how long this project will take to implement.
This initiative is at a very early stage and we do not yet have cost estimates for a facility, and costs would vary based on the type of facility. Funds to create the pool could come from a variety of sources.
We are investigating various operational models for running a swimming facility, including a publicly managed pool, and private operation, and a public-private partnership.