Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What's Blooming in Rock Creek Park

Spring has sprung! Here are some of the things we saw this afternoon in Rock Creek. What have you been seeing out there?

Rock Creek Park wildflowers 4/9/2014
bloodroot - big patches on the Melvin C. Hazen trail by Peirce Mill (see bloodroot post)
Rock Creek Park wildflowers 4/9/2014
cut-leaf toothwort
Rock Creek Park wildflowers 4/9/2014
fern fiddleheads (not sure which species)
Rock Creek Park wildflowers 4/9/2014
trout lily
Rock Creek Park wildflowers 4/9/2014
spicebush (see spicebush post)
Notable critters seen or heard but not photographed: spring peepers, barred owl, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and brown creepers. Rock Creek Park is such a treasure. Enjoy it!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cleaning up the Anacostia River

The three films we highlighted from the DC Environmental Film Festival over the last couple of weeks had one theme in common: the need to clean up the Anacostia River. The Anacostia Watershed Society has come a long way in the past 25 years in their goal to make the Anacostia fishable and swimmable, with help from many individuals and organizations. The river is now cleaner than it has been in generations. But there is still a lot of work to be done.

Kayaking Paddle Anacostia River
Kayaking the Anacostia near Bladensburg Riverfront Park
Photo credit: Mr. T in DC

Trash. The morning of Saturday April 5th is the Anacostia Watershed Society's 20th annual Earth Day trash-removal event. Last year, the cleanup removed 49 tons of trash from the river. Register here to help out.

Toxins. But the problem goes much deeper than trash. This year a new coalition, United for a Healthy Anacostia River, has formed to focus on cleaning up toxins from the bottom of the river.

Brown bullhead catfish with tumor
Photo credit: Fred Pinkney, USFWS
Old industrial sites along the river like the US Naval Weapons Factory, the Washington Gas and Light coal gasification plant, Pepco’s two generating stations, the city dump, and others have left a legacy of pollution. Fish in the river have a high rate of tumors thought to be caused by polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, which come from coal, oil and gasoline). But while the tumors are unsightly, it's the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that invisibly accumulate in the muscle tissue of fish and pose more of a health threat to humans. You can sign a petition to make cleaning up these toxins a top priority in DC.

Sewage. The toxins aren't all old. An estimated 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage mixed with stormwater flows into the Anacostia River each year as a result of antiquated sewer systems that overflow during storms (known as combined sewer overflows, or CSOs). This results in high levels of bacteria and other pathogens in the water, another thing making it unsafe to swim or fish in the Anacostia.

As a result of a lawsuit, DC Water is now building a huge system of 23-foot-wide tunnels that should keep most sewage out of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. In a fascinating article, the Washington Post called it "the most amazing and expensive construction project that no one will ever see." When you get your water bill, know that recent rate increases (and probably more in the future) are going to pay for this project. Here's a bit of a peek:

Runoff. Even when it doesn't combine with raw sewage, stormwater runoff can create problems as it picks up nasty chemicals from the streets and then crashes into local streams at concentrated points, causing erosion. If you're a homeowner, check out the programs in DC, Prince George's County, and Montgomery County that will give you rebates for doing things to keep more rainwater on your property and out of the street.

So, what do you think -- will we be able to swim and fish in the Anacostia in our lifetimes?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

EFF: Nature and Community, Raptors and Youth

Every year, the DC Environmental Film Festival offers hundreds of insightful and compelling films from around the world. Films are showing from March 18-30, and many are free. On the Natural Capital, we're highlighting a few with DC connections.

March 30, noon, Carnegie Institution for Science
Protecting and Restoring Nature and Community: 6 short films

  • MIDNIGHT BLUE (France, 2013 8 min.) Using sand as animation, the film follows the rhythm of a whale's meditations, allowing us to witness the ocean in a different way.
  • FROM THE CLOUD TO THE GROUND (Tanzania/USA, 2013, 8 min.) Collaboration between the Jane Goodall Institute, Google Earth Outreach and local villagers to monitor forests.
  • FISH-I: AFRICA (USA, 2014, 18 min.) In the Western Indian Ocean, fighting large-scale illegal fishing. 
  • CABO PULMO (USA, 2013,16 min.) Rejuvenation and conservation of an ocean ecosystem at the only coral reef in the sea of Cortez.
  • SANCTUARY (USA, clips from a work-in-progress, 10 min.) This is the story of Rodney Stotts’ awe-inspiring struggle to provide Washington, D.C.’s underserved youth and endangered raptors with a safe haven for mutual healing and growth. As Rodney mentors a group of 16 to 18-year-olds whom the education system has failed, they will work to build flight cages for eagles on conservation land, a second chance for the young people and the birds. Introduced by filmmaker Annie Kaempfer. Discussion with Annie Kaempfer and Rodney Stotts, falconer and trained raptor specialist, follows screening.
  • REVIVING THE FREEDOM MILL (USA, 2013, 20 min.) When environmentalist Tony Grassi takes a crazy gamble to rehab an abandoned Mill, he inspires both skepticism and hope that its revived bond with the river will breathe new life into the rural town of Freedom, Maine. Discussion with Tony Grassi and filmmaker David Conover follows screening.

Check out this interview by Alexandra Cousteau for a taste of Rodney Stotts' work:

And another from VOA: