Norton Scores Major Victory for a Swimmable, Fishable Anacostia River

Aug 4, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said she was able to include in the House’s Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA), the major water infrastructure bill, which the House passed last week, a provision that would help accelerate the cleanup of harmful sediments in and around the federal navigational channel in the Anacostia River. The provision changes the parameters in terms of depth and coordinates of the federal navigation channel.

The Congresswoman’s provision supports the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment’s (DOEE) plan to remediate the Anacostia River, a priority for Norton, by either dredging or capping toxic sediment to make the river safe for wildlife and District residents. This plan is called the Anacostia River Sediment Project.

“As chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, I am grateful to my colleagues on another subcommittee, the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, for including this important provision for D.C. and the surrounding region in WRDA, and now to the full House for keeping it in the bill” Norton said. “The Anacostia River has long been a major priority for me, and this provision is necessary to continue the progress being made on cleanup of the river. This provision will allow DOEE to move forward with its plans for sediment remediation in the Anacostia River more quickly and at a lower overall cost.”

Due to sediment accumulation over time, many parts of the federal navigation channel in the Anacostia River do not meet the current formal depth requirements of the federal navigation channel. In the absence of a partial deauthorization, in order to move forward with its plan for sediment remediation, DOEE would have had to dredge all the way down to the full depth of 24 feet in many places, a depth that is inconsistent with existing and anticipated future uses of the Anacostia River. Extensive dredging is not necessary to restore the river and would be very time consuming and expensive and would make the overall remediation project much more difficult. The deauthorization that the Norton got included in WRDA changes the parameters of the federal navigation channel so that DOEE will not have to dredge down quite as far in some areas and can move forward with simply capping toxic sediment in other areas. This would greatly decrease the cost of the project for the District and other stakeholders and avoid unnecessary delay in the District’s work to achieve a fishable, swimmable Anacostia River for its residents.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has authority over the federal navigation channel, and, by law, any changes to the federal navigational channel must comply with the depths outlined in the formal coordinates for the channel, unless the depths of the channel are changed through a formal deauthorization or the Army Corps of Engineers grants special permission for non-conforming depths in the form of a waiver.