Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2017DC190B

Examination of nutrient and land use patterns in the tidal Anacostia River

Institute: District of Columbia
Year Established: 2017 Start Date: 2017-03-01 End Date: 2018-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $9,987 Total Non-Federal Funds: $21,505

Principal Investigators: Stephen MacAvoy

Abstract: The Anacostia River is a major waterway, encompassing 440 km2, located in Washington, D.C. It is also one of the nation’s 10 most contaminated rivers, containing sewage, metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), and has been cited by the EPA as a "major area of concern" for the Chesapeake region (Maa 2008). In addition to contaminants, excess nutrients have also become a problem in the Anacostia and other urban streams. The Washington DC government has also adopted a policy to make the Anacostia "fishable and swimmable” by 2032 (Hawkins 2008). This ambitious policy goal makes characterizing the sources of nutrients and bacteria necessary in order to eliminate those sources. Although the presence of excess nutrients has been well established, the sources of nutrients, particularly in areas where sewage may combine with storm water runoff, remains largely anecdotal. Additionally, the role of impervious surfaces in changing the Anacostia’s chemical composition remains to be explored. If the degree of sewage contamination can be quantified (i.e. what percent of organic nitrogen is derived from sewage vs. natural sources), it would provide water managers some idea of what the Anacostia's nutrient loads would be if sewage inputs were reduced or eliminated. Additionally, recent work has suggested concrete in the Anacostia’s watershed is changing the geochemistry of the river, making it saltier (Connor et al. 2014). Encouraging green spaces or bioswales could help normalize the river chemistry. Examining land use patterns and geochemical tools, I propose to quantify the prevalence of sewage nitrogen (if any) and examine how the urban landscape impacts river chemistry. The specific objectives of this proposal are 1) to determine the sources of nitrogen in the tidal and non-tidal Anacostia, 2) characterize how land use (impervious surfaces) chronically effects the Anacostia’s geochemistry.