Assessing the Effectiveness of the Anacostia River Tunnel in Reduction of Eutrophication

Principal Investigator:

Caroline Solomon

Start/End Year:

2018 - 2020


Gallaudet University

Co-Principal Investigator:

Patricia Glibert, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Strategic focus area:

Healthy coastal ecosystems


The Anacostia River is among the most polluted tributaries in Chesapeake Bay. With substantial algal blooms and bacterial contamination, it has placed those who recreate on the water at considerable health risk. The first phase of a recently completed, multi-billion dollar infrastructure project, the Anacostia River Tunnel, which will retain and divert sewage and storm water effluent is due to be operational by March 2018. The tunnel project is award-winning from the perspective of the engineering community, but the environmental outcome is yet to be determined. While it may be years before the full infrastructure project is complete or full ecosystem recovery is seen, changes in phytoplankton and bacteria should be clearly evident in these first two years of project implementation. Accordingly, this Sea Grant project will address the hypothesis that the diversion of water and its associated nutrients will lead to an improvement in water quality, a shift in the community composition of phytoplankton species, and a reduction in sewage-associated bacteria. 

The specific objectives of this project are:

  1. To characterize the nutrients, phytoplankton and microbial diversity of the Anacostia River during the summer months, including after storm events;
  2. To conduct mesocosm manipulation experiments during the summer months to assess phylogenetic and functional responses to altered N and P and N forms;
  3. To initiate a citizen's monitoring program for bacteria in conjunction with the Anacostia Riverkeeper to convey whether it is safe to swim;
  4. To synthesize data across multiple years of study to advance our understanding of phylogenetic, functional and genetic diversity of algal communities as a function of altered nutrient loads, proportions and forms, and in response to change in these loads with the Anacostia Tunnel improvement project;
  5. To share data and findings with local management groups that serve the Anacostia River region, and communicate findings to the public through social media, public events and other forums.

Building on a considerable body of work on baseline conditions over the past few years, this project will bring new seasonal water column measurements, enclosure enrichment studies, and molecular approaches to determine if, indeed, a success story can be written. The PIs, together with their students, will use established relationships with the Anacostia Riverkeeper and the Anacostia Waterfront Trust to communicate with community groups via meetings, social media and the local press and implement a citizen science program to allow for rapid response regarding water safety

Related Publications:

Solomon, CM; Jackson, M; Glibert, PM. 2019. Chesapeake Bay's "forgotten" Anacostia River: eutrophication and nutrient reduction measures ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING AND ASSESSMENT191(5) . doi:10.1007/s10661-019-7437-9. UM-SG-RS-2019-01.

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