It was unfathomable just a few years ago, but the Potomac River is making a comeback.
Thanks to the efforts of many people and groups like the Potomac Conservancy, the Potomac River may be safe for swimming in our lifetime. The graded health of the river has risen from “D” to “B” in only 10 years.
Potomac Conservancy was formed in the summer of 1993 by a group of local recreationalists concerned about inappropriate development, clear-cutting, and other activities that were beginning to have a negative impact on the unspoiled character of the Potomac Gorge.
“The Potomac is now on the verge of being one of the nation’s great river recovery stories,” writes the Washington Post.
More work and vigilance is definitely necessary, but for the first time in generations, parts of the river are clean enough for anglers to eat their catch and safe enough for children to wade in. Being able to safely swim in the entire river is a goal worth pursuing as new challenges emerge.
The Potomac River is a source of drinking water for more than five million people living around Washington, D.C. A 2018 report from the conservancy said that pollution declined, wildlife returned and more land was protected. All of these factors are contributing to the river’s rebound. Because of this, more people are returning to the river for water-related activities.
American shad, bald eagles, and other native wildlife are also returning. The Potomac is the only river in the Chesapeake Bay region where shad populations exceed restoration goal numbers. However, invasive species like blue and flathead catfish and northern snakeheads could still threaten those numbers.
A decline in tree planting along streams and an increase in paved surfaces have slowed recovery. Polluted runoff remains the biggest threat to water quality.
By Chris Knauss, Southern Boating May 2018