Preventing Pollution in the Potomac, 'The Nation's River'

By Hayley Walker and Holly Goldberg
The George Washington University

With D.C.’s famous monuments in sight, the Potomac has been deemed by many “the nation’s river,” and it serves a much larger purpose than you might realize.

The Potomac River basin is the main source of drinking water for D.C. residents — providing clean water to about 4 million people. Additionally, its connection to the Chesapeake Bay — meaning the health of each impacts the other — affects food supply (especially the famous Maryland blue crabs) and fresh water across the eastern seaboard.

On top of that, the health of the Potomac River can actually help improve the economy and public health, according to Caroline Donovan, Program Manager for the Integration and Application Network at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. On a nice day, the Potomac can be seen filled with all types of boats: kayaks, paddle boards and even "pirate" ships. A healthy river can bring in tourists and residents alike to rent boats and enjoy the fresh air — improving the economy and the public’s health.

Very plainly stated, Donovan told us that the greatest threat to the Potomac River is human development. The ever-expansive development of the D.C. metro area is changing its natural state through pollution and climate change. But there are ways to help at every level. At a city level, implementing rain gardens along the riverbanks and creating more pervious surfaces are an effective means of protecting the river. On a personal level, composting leaves and grass and using a rain barrel to collect rain from the gutters at your home will block rain water from picking up pollutants and entering our natural waterways. 

As Donovan pointed out, when people come into D.C., the Potomac is the first thing they see and we should keep it clean for today's visitors and residents and tomorrow's as well.

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