Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020DC118B

Using zebrafish to assess water health of Paint Branch Stream, an upstream tributary within the Anacostia Watershed

Institute: District of Columbia
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-03-01 End Date: 2021-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $10,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $20,020

Principal Investigators: Victoria Connaughton

Abstract: Within the nation’s capital lies one of the ten most contaminated rivers in the United States, the Anacostia River1. Rapid urbanization, industrial activity and runoff have transformed the River from a biologically rich, healthy ecosystem to an ecologically threatened environment facing extensive pollution2,3. In recent decades, numerous research groups and government agencies have documented the extensive pollution that now plagues the region, but few have examined the biological health of organisms residing within the watershed, or the resulting impacts on human health in the surrounding DC community. The current study aims to examine some of the biological consequences brought about by the extensive pollution known to impact the Anacostia waterway. Specifically, we propose to build on recent research regarding water quality and fish health by continuing our bioassay work in zebrafish to determine the biological impact of Anacostia River contaminants on fish reared in water collected from within the Watershed. Our initial study examined contaminants in water obtained from a historically contaminated site opposite the Washington Navy Yard4. A follow-up study assessed contaminants at Bladensburg Waterfront Park5, a midstream site. Here, we expand our study to include sampling at Paint Branch Stream, an upstream tributary of the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River. Described as excellent for fish, the less urbanized, forested Paint Branch Stream offers a unique comparison site. In this expansion of our work, we will perform 3 sets of experiments. First, water quality analysis will be performed on Paint Brant water samples to identify major bioactive contaminant(s) in the samples. Following this chemical analysis, zebrafish eggs/larvae/juveniles will be reared in Paint Branch water samples so that changes in growth, survival, behavior, and anatomy can be determined across development (fertilization to 30 days postfertilization). These experiments will be conducted in the lab to allow for improved tracking of anatomical and behavioral effects. Finally, a follow-up set of controlled experiments will directly expose zebrafish to the predominant contaminant(s) in the water samples identified in the first phase of the study. These findings will be compared with the results our previous studies with Navy Yard and Bladensburg Park water allowing us to: (1) determine water quality and the relative number of pollutants at different regions of the Anacostia, (2) determine biological impacts of exposure to primary contaminants at the Paint Branch site and (3) compare biological health across different regions of the Anacostia. Our use of zebrafish for these experiments allows us to refine a repeatable bioassay that can be used to measure health of the Anacostia without disturbing local fish populations, while providing information on health impacts of contaminant exposure in a well-known, well-studied model organism.