Our River, The Anacostia

Jorge Bogantes Montero AWS with mussel cage.

As we continue to make progress in the improvement of the Anacostia, we begin to discover elements of nature that can help us along.  One of the most interesting is the role that can be played by fresh water mussels, which can mitigate chemicals and poisons that otherwise can wipe out fish and plants in the water.

We are making great progress in eliminating 98% of sewage overflows into the River and cutting way back on upstream contaminants.  That means that the mussels can better do their thing to protect the fish and plants.

Mussel to be placed in Aquatic Garden pond

Under the leadership of the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) and its staff and volunteers, there are three areas in the District where mussels are being placed to help purify water, and about seven more areas upstream.  All of these provide safe and supportive places for the mussels to do their work and reproduce.  At the same time, AWS continues to work with the City and with the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery in Virginia to assure the supply of mussels will continue to grow.

The three places the mussels are released in the District are the Kenilworth Aquatic Garden in Anacostia; Kingman Lake above Benning Road surrounded by the Langston Golf Course; and Buzzard Point by Fort McNair.  These places have calm waters and a quantity of fish that give the mussel larva something to hold onto.

Students with mussels to add from Upper Marlboro HS Dr. Wise.

Another element that helps is that fresh water mussels do not taste at all good to other critters including humans, which means they are not being harvested and devoured.  In addition to filtering from the water the bacteria that destroy fish and plants, the mussels grow to where they can trap and remove micro-plastics and the sediments floating in the water.

If you would like to learn more about this effort to re-engage nature in the clean-up of the Anacostia, or if you would like to volunteer to help in the actual management of the growth and distribution of the mussels to maximize the benefit to the River, you should contact the folks at Anacostia Watershed Society on ecastelli2@anacostiws.org., or (301-699-6204 x103)  They would love to have your help!

Bill Matuszeski is a member of the Mayor’s Leadership Council for a Cleaner Anacostia River and the retired Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program.  He also serves on the Board of the Friends of the National Arboretum and on Citizen Advisory Committees for the Anacostia and the Chesapeake.