Innovative DC Water Partnership Will Help Anacostia & Potomac Mussels

September 25, 2019

Bushels of baby mussels are growing at three spots along the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers as part of a unique partnership intended to study a new way to restore the District’s forgotten river. DC Water and the Anacostia Watershed Society teamed up to place 5,000 baby mussels of two varieties into the rivers, including at one site in the former coal boat slip located in the shadow of the Authority’s iconic green glass headquarters.

“Not everyone realizes it but a lot of what we do at DC Water is aimed at restoring the health of the District’s waterways,” said David L. Gadis, DC Water Chief Executive Officer and General Manager. “By investing in this project we are part of the larger story behind the rejuvenation of the Anacostia River, the forgotten river.”

Jim Foster, President of the Anacostia Watershed Society, said: “We are grateful for DC Water's partnership, which will enable us to expand our freshwater mussel restoration efforts and accelerate water quality improvements to the Anacostia River, building on the tremendous progress achieved from the completion of the first phase of the Clean Rivers tunnel project.”

A healthy mussel population in the river will improve the overall quality of the waterway by filtering nutrients and sediment – these mussels alone should filter about 18 million gallons of water over a single year. Historic populations of shellfish in the mid-Atlantic were legendary for their abundance, and their absence is both a symptom and a cause of impaired water quality. The partnership between DC Water and the Anacostia Watershed Society will generate data that show whether the mussels survive and that quantify the potential water quality improvement. The results will help determine whether large-scale installations of shellfish are a viable and efficient way to improve water quality.

The project will also educate District residents about the native aquatic life of the Anacostia River. Two native species of mussel, the Alewife Floater and the Eastern Lampmussel, have been propagated at Harrison Lake Hatchery and will be placed at DC Water’s administrative headquarters (HQO) in the Anacostia River and at two sites near DC Water’s Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in the Potomac River.

DC Water is providing funding and in-kind support to the project; the Anacostia Watershed Society is sourcing the mussels and equipment and providing all the necessary expertise.

This project aligns with the goals of DC Water’s Clean Rivers initiative, along with regional ecological restoration efforts like the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Anacostia River Watershed Restoration Plan, DC Wildlife Action Plan and the Sustainable DC Plan.