Earth Day on the Anacostia at First Church By Katherine Antos. Earth Day is April 22, a day to celebrate God’s creation and find ways to become better stewards of this gift. Protecting the Earth isn’t just about plants and wildlife, it’s also about caring for our neighbors who are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of a polluted environment. Countless studies have shown lower income and minority residents are disproportionately harmed by air, water and toxic pollution.
Within our city, the Anacostia River demonstrates the painful history of environmental injustice but also the power of restoration. The river flows through four of the District’s eight wards and has long been a dividing line. Depending where you are, you can enjoy the Anacostia from one of the hottest new restaurant scenes, or cross train tracks, a six-lane highway, and vast parkland that used to be the site of the District’s open-burn dump just to reach its shores. Substantial income disparities exist between east and west of the river.
The Anacostia’s industrial history and poor sewage infrastructure made it one of the most polluted rivers in the country, but it is coming back. The District and the National Park Service are leading efforts to address contamination in the river and its surrounding lands. As I write this, DC Water is about to turn on massive, subway-sized tunnels underneath the river that will capture and treat raw sewage and storm water during rain events, eliminating 81% of the sewage overflows into the Anacostia. The Clean Rivers Project will eliminate 98% of sewage overflows to the Anacostia by 2025. The river may be swimmable in the not-so-distant future. The District has regulations, incentives, and capital investments to reduce urban runoff, the third major source of pollution. Yet as the river is restored, it is imperative that a revitalized waterfront does not exacerbate gentrification and displacement.
I have been drawn to water my entire life. As my career moved from the federal and nonprofit sectors to local government, I have become increasingly focused on the interconnection between healthy waterways and healthy communities. I am honored to work with many dedicated individuals who are striving to restore the Anacostia and support surrounding neighborhoods, and I look forward to celebrating Earth Day together at First Church.
Here are ways you can be a steward of God’s creation:
- Participate in the Anacostia Watershed Society’s Earth Day Cleanup on April 21
- Don’t over-fertilize your lawn – “In the fall if at all”
- Pick up after your pet
- Drive your car less – it’s good for the air, public health, and our waters
- Recycle and compost. Learn more at https://zerowaste.dc.gov
- Green your property. The District’s RiverSmart programs can help
- Don’t litter. Trash in our streets ends up in our creeks, rivers and oceans
- Get out and enjoy nature. Learn more about fun events around the Anacostia River in 2018 at www.yearoftheanacostia.com