Stream Ecology in the Anacostia Watershed
Many urban waterways are in trouble, and the Anacostia Watershed is no exception. It has been negatively impacted by urbanization for centuries. During the 17th century, European settlers cleared land throughout the watershed for agriculture, causing heavy erosion and sedimentation to alter the landscape. Rapid urbanization of the area claimed more forest and wetland habitat, and growing populations increased the amount of sewage and polluted runoff into the river. What used to be an area with dense forests was cleared for agriculture. The area was mostly used to grow tobacco and corn, which caused an increase in sedimentation in the Anacostia River. When forests are removed and replaced with fields, soil can be moved more easily downstream by wind and rain. More sedimentation resulted in mudflats along the banks of the river. In the early 1900’s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed dredging portions of the Anacostia river, which means they removed the sediment deposited by erosion.
Since the early 1900’s, ecological problems in the Anacostia Watershed have been largely human-caused. Expanding human population, as well as changes in the land use (Navy Ship yard, Pepco power plant) have contributed to the ongoing decline of the watershed. For the residents of this area, this is especially problematic! The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a number of restrictions to specify how many nutrients can enter the river before it becomes hazardous for the plants and animals in the river, as well as the humans who depend on the river for resources.
A cooperative effort between SERC and the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum aimed to engage middle and high school students and teachers throughout the Anacostia Watershed in studying and monitoring the environment that surrounds them. Students have been contributing to the ongoing research of scientists at the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Stream Waders program. Students, teachers, and program managers from schools in Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools and Montgomery County Public Schools and from the United Planning Organization’s POWER program in Washington DC are working with the Smithsonian to explore and learn about stream health throughout the watershed and contribute their knowledge to efforts to restore that Anacostia River. In this initiative, students and teachers from participating public schools throughout the Anacostia Watershed study the health of the streams near their schools by collecting stream ecology data—which includes characterizing the habitats and sampling water quality and macroinvertebrate diversity. Macroinvertebrates include organisms like insect larvae, snails, and worms. By measuring the number of different species of macroinvertebrates living in the stream and the different plants surrounding it, we can know if the water from the stream is clean and healthy for the living things in and around it. Streams are important because they feed into larger rivers. In our case, the Anacostia River feeds into the Potomac River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. The data collected by the school groups will contribute to the state-wide Maryland Biological Stream Survey Stream Wader’s (MBSS-SW) and the Anacostia Watershed Society’s (AWS) annual State of the river report.