Restoring the Anacostia River: Determining the Best Path Forward

Restoring the Anacostia River:
Determining the Best Path Forward
and Building Public Will for Action
Insights from focus group meetings with residents of Montgomery
County, Prince George’s County, and Washington, DC, and from
interviews with key stakeholders in the Anacostia River region
National Wildlife Federation
The Summit Fund of Washington
Lake Research Partners
Table of Contents
Area Residents’ Perceptions of the Anacostia River
Area Residents’ Responses to Facts About the Anacostia River
Area Residents’ Responses to Messages About the Anacostia River
Area Residents’ Trusted Sources for Information About the Anacostia River
Area Residents’ Preferred Methods of Receiving Information About the Anacostia River
Key Stakeholders’ Perceptions of the Anacostia River Restoration Effort
To understand how to build strong support for
Lake Research Partners conducted four
the Anacostia River restoration effort among
focus group meetings with residents near the
people who live near the Anacostia – one of
Anacostia River. The National Wildlife Federa-
the most polluted rivers in the country – and
tion interviewed over 30 key stakeholders in
to determine what path will offer the best
the region. The findings are presented in
opportunity for steady progress toward the
this report.
full restoration, two research firms questioned
residents living in the Anacostia Watershed
and key stakeholders in the region.
Taken together, these findings present a
broad perspective. They offer insights into
ways to restore the Anacostia River and
also to build public will for action.
Focus group meetings with residents near the Anacostia River
Lake Research Partners conducted focus group meetings with residents who live in Montgomery
County and Prince George’s County in Maryland as well individuals who live in the Capitol Hill
area and in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 of Washington, DC. The purpose was to gain insight into how
to build support for restoring the Anacostia River. The four focus group meetings were held on
three separate nights, the first in Prince George’s County, the second in Montgomery County,
and finally one night of groups in Washington, DC. Over the course of the first two nights of
groups, after analyzing the groups’ responses, changes were made to the materials tested in
order to improve them. Therefore, some of the detailed findings may reflect opinions of just
two or three of the groups.
The focus group research suggests that the Maryland residents from Montgomery County and
Prince George’s County do not feel connected to the Anacostia River or know much about it.
Because of this disconnect, restoring the river initially does not seem important or relevant to
them. Residents closer to the river – those who live in DC Wards 5, 6, 7, or 8 or the Capitol Hill
area – know more about the river and feel more of a personal stake in restoring it.
A major challenge to building more support for efforts to restore the Anacostia River among all
of these area residents is the negative imagery that most currently associate with the river and a
lack of awareness of how seriously polluted the river is. Most study participants were unaware
of how their personal behaviors impact the river – almost none of the Maryland residents knew
that they lived in the Anacostia River watershed – and of the main causes of the pollution. Many
speculated that some large industries are to blame for the pollution problems.
Once they know more about the pollution issues with the Anacostia River and the kinds of
actions needed to help restore it, all are supportive of restoration efforts. A number of concepts
seem to break through and spur interest in restoring the river. The top fact about the river that
resonated across all of the focus groups emphasized the past glory of the river and how it had
become one of the most polluted rivers in the country:
In the 17th century, the Anacostia River was a busy waterway, alive with trade and a
source of food for those who lived along its banks. Today, the Anacostia River is one
of the most polluted rivers in America.
The top message about the river for motivating support and action is one that emerged later in
the focus group study and that outlined all of the specific benefits of restoration efforts:
Polluted runoff from your community goes into the Anacostia watershed and river.
The solution to the problem of polluted runoff is to “green” our communities with trees,
gardens, planters, and other improvements to streets and buildings that address runoff
in a natural way – letting it soak into the ground, watering trees and plants with it, and
harvesting it for other uses – rather than letting it pollute our streams and rivers. Doing
this will:
»» Increase our property values.
»» Make our neighborhoods more beautiful.
»» Make our communities healthier by cleaning and cooling the air.
»» Make streets and other outdoor spaces more safe, comfortable, and attractive for
walking, cycling, and other healthy recreation.
»» Create jobs for local residents in local businesses.
»» Save energy and water, and therefore money.
This message shows that area residents need to hear details about how restoring the Anacostia
River will enhance their lives and communities.
Additional insights about attitudes toward the Anacostia River and into the strongest messages
to use to encourage support for restoration efforts can be found on the following pages.
Interviews with key stakeholders in the Anacostia River region
Over the course of several months, the National Wildlife Federation interviewed more than
30 key stakeholders in the Anacostia River region, including representatives of the advocacy,
philanthropic, government, and private sectors. Interviewees included individuals within key
federal and state agencies. Conversations were conducted in groups and individually, with
several of the most knowledgeable individuals being interviewed repeatedly to provide
additional feedback.
A few common trends were identified, with some agreement on key issues, and many disagreements about the state of the restoration effort and about the parties most responsible
for progress or lack of progress. The two points of near unanimous agreement among all
participants are that we are in a very difficult political atmosphere for significant new initiatives
and that there is no one silver bullet for making faster progress. Beyond that, there were
several themes that arose in these conversations—one of which, the lack of public awareness
of the Anacostia River, is a theme that echoes the focus group findings.
Area Residents’ General Perspectives
Area residents lead busy, stressful lives, but some find time to take
advantage of the outdoors
All area residents participating in the focus groups explained that they live busy, stressful lives.
They have little or no free time. Parents are involved in their children’s activities. Others have
challenging jobs and long commutes. When they do have free time, many tend to indoor
activities (often on their computers), but some find the time to go outside and enjoy the natural
resources and cultural opportunities that the area offers. A number go biking, jogging, walking,
fishing, boating, and camping around the area. Some are active gardeners. Many seem to value
their local parks, and some have participated in cleanup days and school projects related to
protecting and valuing local resources.
They believe civic involvement is important
Most of the participants volunteer and engage in community activities. Many know their
neighbors and are aware of community issues. All believe that it is important that residents
be involved and have a say in local issues. However, a number do not seem to know much
about their local government or how policy decisions are made.
They see many pressing issues for their communities
Their top issues tend to be traffic, unemployment, new development, and crime. Many,
particularly those living in Washington, DC, say the cost of living has greatly increased, and
they express concern about continuing to afford such an expensive area. All see the continuous
building and development occurring in the area as a mixed blessing. This adds to congestion
and traffic problems, but it is also increasing convenience for them and improving housing
values in some cases.
I think unemployment is the biggest challenge they have in the country. And a result of
that you have things like crime.
–– Prince George’s County man
They value the area’s natural resources, and some are taking steps to
be good stewards of them
Many mention the natural beauty of the area as a reason that they like living in their community,
and some are taking steps in their personal lives to protect the environment. Some things
they report doing are the following: having rainwater barrels; researching plants and trees
and planting beneficial plants in their yards; not using chemicals on their lawn; and reducing
their carbon footprint in many ways. Most seem to have a general understanding of how their
personal behaviors can impact the local environment and seem to want to be good stewards
of local resources.
Area Residents’ Perceptions of the Anacostia River
Maryland residents do not initially feel a connection to the Anacostia River
Montgomery County and Prince George’s County residents in the focus groups do not feel
connected to the Anacostia River. Many are unclear where the Anacostia River is located.
They are unfamiliar with destinations along the river other than the Nationals’ baseball stadium.
These county residents tend to think of the Anacostia River as “DC’s river” and as not being
connected to their neighborhoods and communities. They do not participate in recreational
activities near or along the river. They feel more connected to the Potomac River, the Chesapeake
Bay, and their local streams, creeks, and parks. Most seem to lack even basic information
about the Anacostia River, although some seem to be vaguely aware that they may be living
in the watershed.
I really don’t pay attention because I’m from old Greenbelt and we’re insulated. We have
an unusual situation in Greenbelt. And that’s why I love it. I was raised here. My children
were born and raised here. And we’re like an oasis.
–– Prince George’s County woman
DC residents seem more attached to the river
The Capitol Hill residents and those living in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 seem to have a connection to
the Anacostia River. Their discussion about the river is more personal and tangible than that of
individuals living in the surrounding Maryland counties. Most of these DC residents know where
the river is. A number have regular contact with the river through jogging, going to Anacostia Park,
attending BBQs, and more. Many of those in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 and a few of the Capitol Hill
residents have a nostalgic perspective of the river, recalling how, in times past, families and young
people used to go to the river regularly to enjoy its parks and to participate in social gatherings
and recreational activities there. They recall attending concerts, going to the pool, using the skating
rink, boating, and even fishing.
Some of these residents feel that the river has gone into steep decline in the decades since those
days and that the parks and areas along the river have deteriorated. Others, however, argue that
the areas along the Anacostia River are alive with people on weekends and during the summers.
They point to all the new construction and development near the Nationals’ stadium and in other
areas along the river. They think part of the problem is that the “word has not gotten out” that
these areas are coming back and being revitalized. These local residents argue that the parks and
areas along the river have become safer and that families and children can be seen enjoying the
recreational activities the area has to offer. They also say that areas along the river are becoming
more diverse with more affluent families moving in and that this will lead to further revitalization.
I remember when they got the park done at Navy Yard and Tommy Wells opened it up.
But it still took me a couple of months to go down and see it. Once I saw it I thought it
was amazing. People have to be willing to go down there.
–– DC woman
Most have an image of the Anacostia River as being dirty, smelly,
and dangerous
In each of the focus groups, we asked respondents to do a word association exercise with three
terms: “Your Community,” “Chesapeake Bay,” and “Anacostia River.” The words associated with
“Your Community” were mostly about family, neighbors, development, home, diversity, being
active, and traffic. When thinking about the Chesapeake Bay, many referenced seafood, boating,
and vacation; a few also mentioned pollution.
There is a distinct shift in tone when it comes to the words associated with the Anacostia
River. Across all of the focus groups, the word used most often to describe the Anacostia
River was “dirty.” The majority of these area residents perceive the river as being very polluted
even though they seem to know little else about it. Other common words and phrases include
“muddy,” “smelly,” “dangerous,” and “needs protection.” The images that come to mind with
the Anacostia River are overwhelmingly negative and unappealing.
That said, DC residents also associate some more positive and hopeful words with the river.
They mention “parks,” “green,” and even “beautiful.” These residents who live nearer to the
river seem to see the river’s potential and to value the beauty of the river even if it is marred
by pollution.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to the Anacostia River. But growing up I heard that it was
dirty and it needed cleanup.
–– Prince George’s County man
They lack knowledge about the current condition of the river
Despite this overall sense that the Anacostia River is polluted and neglected, participants know
few details about the current condition of the river. The majority, even those living near the river,
seemed surprised that it is among the dirtiest rivers in the country. Some DC residents felt the
Blue Plains treatment facility contributed to the pollution. Those living in Maryland knew almost
nothing about the current state of the river, about restoration efforts, or about whether or not
progress has been made. They say they do not hear about the river or restoration efforts in their
local media and that the topic is not ever connected to their community.
Those living in DC are slightly more informed about the river. All seem aware of the recent fivecent bag fee, connect it to restoring the Anacostia, and generally support this effort. However,
they want to know how the money is being spent and what specific restoration efforts have
been funded. They feel that those behind the fee have not done a good job of “telling the story”
about the bag fee and how it helps the Anacostia River. Also, a few have been involved in
school activities along the river, such as planting grass. One participant also has toured the
Blue Plains facility. These individuals seem to know more about restoration efforts because
of those activities.
Not a lot of people know the history behind the Anacostia River. I feel like if they knew
what it was capable of doing that maybe they would make more of an effort to try to get
some things actually done.
–– Prince George’s County woman
They do not understand the causes of the pollution
It seems that all of the residents lack an understanding of how the Anacostia River has become
so polluted. (For example, almost none of them knew about the challenges related to the sewage
issue, toxic sediment, or stormwater runoff in the watershed). They want basic explanations of
the causes. They also want to know more about connections between the Anacostia River and
their own lives and communities; most know little to nothing about this. The majority seems
willing to engage this issue and to support policies to restore the river if these gaps in under-
standing are filled.
I’m curious what the source of the pollution is. I’ve just heard it’s dirty, but I don’t know.
Is it industrial pollution? Is it sewage that’s going in there?
–– Prince George’s County man
Area Residents’ Responses to Facts About the
Anacostia River
As part of this project, general facts about the Anacostia River were tested to learn how to best
start raising awareness of the challenges with the river. Participants were asked to circle the two
facts that made them feel like we should do something about the Anacostia River.
The list of facts was edited after the first night of focus groups in Prince George’s County,
based on Prince George’s County residents’ responses. Table 1 (below) shows the rankings
of the revised set of facts from the groups in Capitol Hill; DC Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8; and Montgomery County.
The fact circled most often is:
In the 17th century, the Anacostia River was a busy waterway, alive with trade and a
source of food for those who lived along its banks. Today, the Anacostia River is one
of the most polluted rivers in America.
Most participants are drawn to the contrast of what the river used to be with what it is now.
This is striking to many. The story arc of this brief statement and knowing that at one time the
river was an important waterway that provided for the community seems to create a sense of
pride and ownership in the history of the river.
The main thing is that the Anacostia River was a busy waterway, a number one waterway,
and now it is the most polluted river in America. It’s time for us to do something. Especially
being the nation’s capital. That looks bad on us.
–– DC man
The second-ranking fact, the fact about raw sewage leaks and bacteria levels in the river making
it unsafe to swim in the river, resonates with DC and Prince George’s County residents. DC
residents reference the smell when driving by the river. They also mention a desire to swim in
the river if it were clean. However, this message is weaker with Montgomery County residents.
They say they are unsure of who would want to be swimming in the Anacostia River and ask
what neighborhoods they would be coming from. While Prince George’s County residents did
not read this exact statement, they too are struck by a fact statement highlighting the pollution
problem in the river. 1
1 The statement in Prince George’s County read like this: “The Anacostia River’s major pollution problem is
caused by stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, and sediment swept into the river that is contaminated with
toxic materials.”
Table 1
Facts About the Anacostia River
In the 17th century, the Anacostia River was a busy waterway, alive with trade and
# of Circles
a source of food for those who lived along its banks. Today, the Anacostia River is
one of the most polluted rivers in America.
Due to raw sewage leaks and overflows, bacteria levels in the Anacostia after rain-
storms often exceed safe levels for swimming.
For decades toxic materials from stormwater runoff and sewage leaks have been
settling along the bottom of the Anacostia River and this buildup of toxic materials
continues today. The problem is that the Anacostia River is affected by tides and
this has made it a slow moving river. The toxic materials are not “flushed” like they
would be in other rivers. Because of this toxic sediment, people have been advised
not to eat the fish in the Anacostia.
Local collaboration among organizations resulted in the Anacostia Restoration Plan.
This was an important first step for cleaning up the river, but it will be difficult to make
much progress without a coordinating body that has the authority and resources to
prioritize actions across political boundaries in the region.
The Anacostia River’s major pollution problem is caused by polluted rainwater run-
off, sewer overflows, and sediment that is contaminated with toxic materials.
Local public resources are not enough to cover the cleanup’s cost. Implementing
the Anacostia Restoration Plan would cost about $115 million annually for 15 years.
Rainwater falls on surfaces like roofs, roads, driveways, sidewalks, and parking lots.
It picks up trash, oil, bacteria, and other pollutants before gushing at high volumes
and velocities directly into waterways, including the Anacostia River and the streams
that lead to it.
The Anacostia River is only 8 miles long. But the Anacostia’s watershed (the land and
the network of streams that drain to the river) covers 176 square miles of the region.
Streams in our parks are eroded by polluted runoff. This erosion causes the Anacostia
River and streams to have 10 times the sediments in its water as other Chesapeake
Bay rivers.
Current property regulations cannot solve the runoff issues causing much of the
pollution in the Anacostia River. One of the biggest challenges is the fact that older
properties are not subject to new regulations that might help address the problem.
Area Residents’ Responses to Messages About
the Anacostia River
After reading facts about the Anacostia River and the watershed, respondents were asked to
read statements meant to encourage efforts and support for restoring the river. Respondents
ranked each statement on a scale of 1 to 10 regarding how motivating the statement was to
do something to support restoration efforts.
As was the case with the facts, the messages were improved over the course of the four focus
groups. With the exception of one message, the messages in Table 2 (below) are the ones that
were tested in DC and Montgomery County; the highest rated message in Table 2, the one
about solving the problem of polluted runoff by “greening” communities, was added for the
DC groups after incorporating insights from the Montgomery County group.
Capitol Hill respondents like the top message because it has imagery they can clearly see in
their mind, and they view it as a two-for-one. They are drawn to the ideas of higher property
values, cherishing their neighborhoods, and saving money. Some see it as an added bonus that
by doing all of these things for themselves, they also will have a hand in restoring the Anacostia.
Additionally, they appreciate that this is a solution-oriented statement. It clearly states the problem
and the solutions in an easy-to-embrace way. However, some are skeptical of how many jobs
could actually be created or sustained.
All of this stuff sounded really appealing to me, even aside from the Anacostia. I think it
sounds great to plant more trees and gardens and go outside, plus it helps the watershed.
It’s all great news.
–– Capitol Hill woman
Similarly, residents of DC Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 like this same message. Some say they like it
because they feel strongly about investing positively into their community. Others say this is
their top choice because it states that jobs will be created. These participants see sustainable
jobs in the maintenance of this kind of “green” community. They also are drawn to the part
of the message that says that greening the community will attract local businesses and save
energy and water.
That we can all take a responsibility. We don’t have to drive into DC or whatever. We can
all take a responsibility right there and with a huge community effort, everybody can do it.
–– Montgomery County woman
The message with the second highest rating in Table 2, the one stating that everybody can play
an important role in restoring the river, was the best message among the Montgomery County
respondents. It reflects similar sentiments to the top-ranking message. Participants felt it was
important to do something for their community and liked that this statement offered a solution
that everyone can partake in.
The fact that these two messages rise to the top with participants suggests that residents are
motivated to do something around restoration when there is a positive, solution-oriented goal.
Table 2
Messages on Supporting Efforts to Restore the Anacostia
Polluted runoff from your community goes into the Anacostia watershed and
Ratings 1-10
river. The solution to the problem of polluted runoff is to “green” our communities
with trees, gardens, planters, and other improvements to streets and buildings
that address runoff in a natural way – letting it soak into the ground, watering trees
and plants with it, and harvesting it for other uses – rather than letting it pollute our
streams and rivers.
Doing this will:
»» Increase our property values.
»» Make our neighborhoods more beautiful.
»» Make our communities healthier by cleaning and cooling the air.
»» Make streets and other outdoor spaces more safe, comfortable, and attractive
for walking, cycling, and other healthy recreation.
»» Create jobs for local residents in local businesses.
»» Save energy and water, and therefore money.
Everyone – from policymakers to everyday citizens – can play an important role
in restoring the Anacostia River. In addition to pressuring policymakers for better
regulations and participating in direct cleanup activities, everyday citizens can
make changes in their own lives to help restore the Anacostia. For example, taking
the following steps could do a lot to fight the problem of polluted runoff going into
the river:
»» Planting trees, native wildflowers, and rain gardens that soak clean rainwater into
the ground
»» Using rain barrels to store rainwater for later use
»» Taking care to properly dispose of used oil and other chemicals, pet waste, and trash
It is important that we clean up the Anacostia River so that those of us who live
near the river and in its watershed can experience a natural waterway that we can
fish and swim in without concern.
Restoring the Anacostia River and making its watershed “greener” will bring jobs
to our communities. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2008, spending on
“green construction” supported 2.4 million jobs nationwide. It is estimated that
green construction will support over 7.9 million jobs between 2009 and 2013.
In order to improve the health of our community economically we must give visitors
and businesses a reason to come here. We cannot do that until we improve our
community’s ecological health and show that the Anacostia River is a clean, healthy,
and beautiful feature of our civic center.
Green investments have already been made to breathe life back into the Anacostia
River and the areas that surround it. The new Nationals Major League Baseball Park
in DC was the first “green” professional sports stadium in the U.S. to be certified by
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Projects like this one prove
that investing in the Anacostia is a smart move for all of us.
Area Residents’ Trusted Sources for Information
About the Anacostia River
After hearing facts and messages about the Anacostia River, participants were asked to read a
list of people, groups, and organizations and circle the three sources that they would trust the
most to provide them with accurate information about the Anacostia River and the importance
of cleaning it up (see Table 3).
Across all four groups, the EPA, non-profit organizations, and local newspapers are top
choices. Area residents see these messengers as experts on the environment and reliable
sources of information.
That’s what they, [at the EPA], specialize in, the environment and they would know
about it.
–– DC woman
Prince George’s County residents were more inclined to choose The National Wildlife Federation
over the EPA because they see that organization as more focused on the issues the Anacostia is
facing, while the EPA is a large agency with many things on its plate.
Table 3
Trusted Sources for Information About the Anacostia River
# of Circles
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Non-profit organizations
Local newspaper
Local television news station
Local elected officials
Doctors and nurses
School officials or teachers
Pastors, ministers, and other faith leaders
Business developers
National media
Area Residents’ Preferred Methods of Receiving
Information About the Anacostia River
The final exercise in the focus groups was to have participants read a list of ways to receive
information about the Anacostia River. They were then asked to circle the best way to reach
them with more information on the issue (see Table 4).
Television and local newspapers surface as the best ways to inform most participants with
information regarding the Anacostia.
I may be watching a football game or a sports game and a commercial may come on about
the Anacostia River and I may pay attention to it. If it comes from the mail I will probably
throw it away.
–– DC man
About half of the Montgomery County and Prince George’s County participants would want
to be contacted through an electronic newsletter through their email. Among all the groups,
Montgomery County residents were the most eager to receive information through social media.
Capitol Hill residents mention local publications such as the Hill Rag as a source that many of
them read and pay attention to. Capitol Hill residents also mentioned word of mouth and talking
to their neighbors as a source of community information.
Table 4
Preferred Methods of Receiving Information About the Anacostia River
# of Circles
TV commercials
Local newspapers
Electronic newsletters via email
In the mail (for example, brochures or flyers)
Social media like Facebook or Twitter
Text messaging
School newsletters
Key Stakeholders’ Perceptions of the Anacostia
River Restoration Effort
There is a widespread lack of public knowledge about the river and its
recreational assets
With the exception of a few stakeholders who had personal recreational exposure to the river,
there was a nearly unanimous opinion that very little of the population appreciates or has any
sense of community ownership of the river. Most stakeholders noted the significantly improved
access to the waterfront, especially in DC, but most also said that the vast majority of the
population doesn’t currently use or appreciate these assets (with the exception of a growing
Hispanic presence in the new parks and open spaces).
Opinions varied about whether this particular situation needed to be reversed to see faster progress
on the restoration. Some participants strongly supported the idea of a broad public relations
campaign to promote community ownership and thereby build political support for funding and
protections. Others said that it was unnecessary and what was needed was a stronger, more
focused advocacy and political effort by the small core of individuals already engaged.
There has been tremendous development along the river – it looks great. We just need to
get people there.
There are limited opportunities to “bump into the Anacostia.” Also, the average person
doesn’t know that their creek is connected to the Anacostia, especially in Maryland.
The restoration movement is not as diverse as the community in which
it operates
Although no single constituency was cited as missing, the point was made by many that while
the majority of the leadership in the advocacy and philanthropic community that is focused on
the river is white, the majority of the community in which they work and the elected officials
they seek to influence are not.
Beyond the lack of racial diversity, several political and community leaders noted the lack of
Spanish-speaking advocates and the corresponding inability of the advocates to build meaningful
relationships within non-English-speaking communities.
Does anyone who works on these issues speak Spanish?
There is not enough coordination between the various groups working
on the Anacostia restoration
Both elected officials and the groups that work to influence them noted the lack of consensus
among the various advocates on needed actions or particular priorities for the river. For instance,
some advocates want to focus primarily on federal actions, while others dismiss a federal
focus in favor of a local work at this time. Local and regional advocates talk of strong communication between the groups but not necessarily coordination. Elected officials note the
problem of inconsistent messages from the various advocates, or at least the inconsistent
urgency of particular campaigns.
Groups don’t know what they want – they are all over the board.
We need a clearer direction from all of the different people who lobby on water quality.
The political leadership in the Anacostia region do not see the
environmental community as dependable political supporters
Several political leaders, including some who would be considered champions by the Anacostia
advocates, noted that while they do see advocates at hearings and meetings during key decisions,
they do not see those advocates at campaign events and fundraisers or at other times. Those
same leaders noted that the development and business community, however, maintains consistent
visibility throughout the year and, therefore, when key issues come up for consideration, can often
depend on strong personal and political relationships to offset environmental arguments.
In the stormwater debate, the environmental groups did not have strong relationships with
local officials like opponents did [builders, business].
The huge federal investment needed is not coming anytime soon
Although there were diverse views about whether it would be productive to focus on federal
action in the near term, there was a consensus among most stakeholders (including those
inside the federal government) that it would be foolish to depend on a significant increase in
federal funding in the next few years. Congress was all but dismissed as a positive force for
restoration, yet there was concern among some of the national advocates and even federal
agency representatives that the community might to its own peril ignore and not fight the
damage that Congress could do to some of the keystone environmental laws that serve as
the foundation for regulatory protection.
In addition, there were some who noted that despite the lack of funding, the current administration
both now and in a potential second term offered potentially the best opportunity for leadership on
Anacostia restoration.
Solutions based on major new federal funding are a waste of time.
The restoration plans are solid
Those with knowledge of the Anacostia Restoration Plan are of the opinion that the plans contain
all the necessary elements to accelerate the river’s restoration. In fact, the more intimately
knowledgeable participants were about the specific plans, the more confident they were that
the plans were good. However, great uncertainty exists about the plan’s timely and effective
implementation. In several cases, both those involved in developing the plans and those promoting their continued implementation cautioned against the temptation to go back and try to
alter them or reinvent the wheel.
Having a plan that lays out 3,000 projects is a huge accomplishment; a road map agreed
upon by multiple entities. You have to have a road map to get where you want to go.
The following recommendations and actions
Two main areas emerge from the focus group
may be taken by the various advocacy groups
findings as important for building support
and funders in the Anacostia River region in
among residents around efforts to restore
order to address some of the concerns that
the Anacostia River. The first is about aware-
were raised and the gaps that were identified
ness: area residents’ awareness of the river
during the multiple stakeholder interviews and
needs to be raised. The second is about
focus group meetings. Many of these recom-
motivation: helping area residents see their
mendations may already be in some state of
own connections to the river will help tap
consideration or may have been discounted
into their will for action.
in the past. However, this research suggests
that they are potential actions that might satisfy
identified needs and are consistent with the
messages tested in the focus groups.
Improve awareness of and sense of connection to the Anacostia River
»» Engage in a branding campaign for the Anacostia River. Residents’ image of the river needs
to change so that they can see its potential. Most people currently have a negative image of
the river and have low levels of awareness about the river, the watershed, and the potential for
recreation and other activities. The goals of this campaign would be to raise awareness about
the breadth of the river in the region, the positive recreational opportunities, the beauty of the
river, and the history of river. Seek government support and funding to help with this campaign.
»» Make connections between residents’ lives and the Anacostia. Most residents currently have
a general understanding of how their actions impact the local environment, but they need to
be reminded that their local environment includes the Anacostia and the watershed. Message
primarily around the water bodies that people already know, especially on cleanup efforts in
Maryland. Talk about specific tributaries and streams rather than the Anacostia. Encourage
the Anacostia Watershed Society and other environmental groups to support and/or establish
Friends of the (Local) Creek clubs to do more federal- and state-focused advocacy work.
»» Detail the benefits of restoration efforts to individuals, communities, and the area as a whole.
Area residents need to hear about the specific benefits in order to see how their efforts would
matter. They also need to know that restoration is possible, progress is being made, and that
the benefits of a restored river and watershed are within reach.
»» Use the framework of “green communities” to discuss the Anacostia. This is a positive framework and one that will increasingly grab area residents’ attention, especially when they hear
how “greening” their community can help their environment as well as their pocketbooks.
»» Initiate a “Stories of the Anacostia” campaign. This would include stories about the importance
of the Anacostia in the history of the region, using the model of “Stories of the Chesapeake.”
The importance of storytelling, as opposed to talking about statistics, was borne out in the
focus groups, which found that people are more impacted by stories of the river and its history
than by policy proposals or negative statistics.
»» Develop an “Anacostia River Pledge” for residents to sign. In the pledge, describe key actions
residents will take, such as planting trees and rain gardens, using rain barrels, and properly
disposing of used oil and chemicals and other refuse, in order to help restore the Anacostia
River. Create a corresponding “I Took the Pledge” campaign.
»» Keep residents in the loop. Any campaign around restoration should keep area residents abreast
of solutions that their actions have led to. Many complain that they have not heard back on how
the DC bag fee money is being used for restoration. They support the fee, and they are really
interested in seeing the results on the other end.
Engage credible and effective messengers to speak about the
Anacostia restoration
»» Engage the representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and reputable non-profit
organizations as spokespeople. Across the board, the EPA was found in focus groups to be the
most powerful and credible voice for cleaning up the river. Groups should engage more directly
with the EPA to call for a set of specific actions by the agency.
»» Encourage the EPA to more forcefully and publicly lead the multi-agency restoration effort
through the Anacostia River Partnership.
»» Regularly encourage the EPA to more prominently and publicly use the role of special assistant
to the administrator to make public pronouncements and urge actions on all levels of government.
Obtain broad commitment by the business community not only to
support policies to restore the river and but also to take individual
actions to improve water quality and stormwater management
»» Hold an annual state of the river meeting and recognize local business leaders who have been
champions in this area. Help develop champions and identify political barriers.
»» Develop a pro-river business pledge.
»» Develop a competitive business community award by Anacostia advocacy groups.
Encourage diversity within Anacostia groups
»» Hire a Hispanic community outreach coordinator for the Anacostia effort.
»» Focus more on issues of safe recreation, parks, access, and fishing.
»» Develop outreach to predominantly Hispanic cultural events (as opposed to environmental
community events).
»» Launch an independent Hispanic-oriented river group banner.
»» Engage the National Association of Latino Elected Officials for assistance.
Improve advocacy skills of Anacostia groups
»» Initiate a workshop on effective advocacy for Anacostia groups.
Improve coordination between Anacostia groups
»» Establish a more formal coalition structure to coordinate messages and priorities. This also will
enhance the ability of local groups to work on advocacy outside of their immediate mission
area and focus national organizations on this local issue. Fund a full-time coalition manager to
coordinate activities and base that position in Anacostia.
»» Hold an annual conference to discuss and devise strategy and joint priorities.
Create tangible and sustained political engagement by Anacostia
(and environmental) advocacy organizations
»» Start an Anacostia-focused political action committee. Work to foster and support issue
champions by attending fundraisers, contributing funds, and more robustly participating in
the political process. This not only will help send a strong message of support to champions
but also will build greater access to all political players to help with advocacy efforts.
»» Direct restricted c4 funding to an organization like the Maryland League of Conservation
Voters who have the ability and inclination to more directly engage the political process
around Anacostia priorities.
»» Develop an elected officials pledge for state and local candidates to sign to support certain
actions, and publicize those who do and don’t sign.
»» Develop an award for Anacostia champions among elected officials to be given at an annual
state of the river conference.
»» Develop a list of Anacostia River “dirty dozen” for those elected officials who repeatedly
oppose policies and actions to restore the river.
Extend beyond the relatively narrow political base of the watershed
»» Engage Anacostia groups in strategically selected, key high-level policy areas, including the
implementation of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, which provides one of the best opportunities
for significant progress.
»» Create a super advisory committee of influential individuals with political, financial, or other
significant personal influence and with personal ties to the watershed in order to engage in
key, strategic federal and state opportunities.
»» Add federal lobbying capacity to an Anacostia coalition.
This research suggests that a more aggressive
There remain several unanswered questions,
and comprehensive application of the current
including how to deal with the short-term lack of
tactics and the most aggressive support for
federal funding, how the advocacy community
the existing restoration plans offer the best
should approach the unaddressed issue of
opportunity for steady progress toward the
legacy toxins in the river, and what the relative
complete restoration of the Anacostia River.
value is of embarking on a potentially expensive
Many new tactics, mentioned above, could
be added to boost the current work, including
broad public relations campaign to build affinity
for the river.
a coalition to energize and coordinate the
The fact remains, however, that the community
work already being done by various groups,
most closely connected to the river does have
an expansion into more racially and ethnically
the capacity, when approached in the right
diverse constituencies to broaden the universe
way, to take meaningful action. In addition,
of champions, and a more aggressive focus
the political leadership and broader leanings
on the political process where many of the
of the community continue to be receptive to
victories will be determined.
bold action to fully restore the Anacostia River.