National Harbor, a waterfront property in Maryland, has made significant strides in cleaning up the Potomac River over the past 15 years. Once plagued by high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, the river now boasts a 96% pass rate on its report card, thanks to a partnership between National Harbor and the Potomac Riverkeepers Network.
The Potomac Riverkeepers Network is an organization that regularly monitors the river and conducts cleanups along the shoreline of National Harbor from May to October. What began as a group of six volunteers has now grown to 80 or more collectors who fill trash bags with everything from water bottles and plastic straws to tennis balls and hubcaps.
In addition to cleanups, the organization also keeps its floating laboratory, the Sea Dog, at National Harbor’s marina. The Sea Dog is a 42-foot Chesapeake Deadrise with a full laboratory onboard, which allows Potomac Riverkeepers to study water samples from various locations on the Potomac River, including National Harbor.
Potomac Riverkeepers Network has also provided support to scientists from Georgetown University, Maryland Sea Grant, and American University. Together, they investigated biofilms, biodiversity, and microplastics in local waterways, providing professional development to local high school teachers in these areas of study.
National Harbor also works with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and a task force comprised of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Maryland Bass Nation. Together, they have designed an artificial reef off of National Harbor that includes 80 Mini Bay-Reef Balls. Launched in 2016, the reef balls provide habitat for juvenile largemouth bass. Given the prevalence of bass in the area, the reef balls appear to be a success, and there are now bass fishing tournaments (catch and release) held, including one that’s a lead-up to the top national bass tournament.
The Potomac River is a 400-mile river that starts out as a trickle in West Virginia and winds its way through Maryland and Virginia before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. Its banks provide homes for eagles and other wildlife, while the river provides a home for all types of fish.
A few years ago, fishermen on the Potomac near Chain Bridge caught and released a rare shortnose sturgeon – the first to be seen in the river in 14 years. In 1967, the US Fish & Wildlife Service classified the fish as endangered due to overfishing. Given that the shortnose sturgeon is extremely sensitive to poor water conditions and pollution, seeing it in the river is a good sign of the health of the Potomac River.
Since National Harbor opened 15 years ago, the Potomac River has undergone a dramatic transformation that has brought back fish and other wildlife. The cleaner water allows for open water races during the summer at National Harbor.
National Harbor and its partners are committed to preserving and improving the health of the Potomac River. Through ongoing cleanups, scientific research, and habitat restoration efforts, they hope to ensure that the river remains a thriving ecosystem for years to come.