Jul 7, 2023 - News

Anacostia River to open for first legal swim in more than 50 years

Photo: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post

For the first time since 1971, people will be allowed to briefly swim in the Anacostia River for one day this weekend.

Why it matters: Swimming has been illegal in the Anacostia for more than 50 years due to safety concerns, but years of cleanup and monitoring efforts have made the river safe enough to temporarily lift the ban for the special, sanctioned swim.

Driving the news: The Anacostia Riverkeeper is hosting the "Splash" dip off the Kingman Island Dock next to the Benning Road Bridge on Saturday from noon to 3pm.

Catch up fast: Nearby gas and energy plants and landfills had long polluted the river, contaminating its soil, groundwater, and sediments.

  • Kenilworth Park, for example, was used as a landfill between 1940 and 1970 with waste burned adjacent to the river.
  • Pepco and Washington Gas operated sites along the banks of the river in the '90s and, in Pepco's case, into the 2010s.
  • In 1971, a ban was put on swimming in the river due to high bacteria levels.

Yes, but: In recent years, infrastructure projects like DC Water's Clean Rivers project, which tries to capture and clean wastewater before it reaches the waterway, have reduced sewage overflow in the river by 80%, per the Anacostia Riverkeeper.

  • A river monitoring program found last year that sites at Kingman Island, Buzzards Point, and the Washington Channel passed recreational water quality tests 90% of the time.

Participation rules: Swimmers must be 18 years or older and comfortable swimming in deep water. Lifeguards and an EMT will be on site.

Of note: The Riverkeeper does not encourage swimming in the river outside of the special event.

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