Every morning, I — like so many other Georgetown students — gaze upon the Potomac River. Its beauty never ceases to amaze me. It is impossible not to look upon its great waters and not feel a sense of peace.
This is why it never ceases to sadden me when I think about the river’s appalling condition. A recent issue of The Hoya published a splendid cover story written by Kristen Fedor which shed light on the river’s woes.
Today, the Potomac is so polluted that we cannot eat its fish or swim in its waters. These pollution levels are enough to make me wary to complete the obligatory kayaking trip on its waters. Many factors have contributed to the river’s pollution, but the most devastating is sewage. More than a billion gallons of sewage waste are dumped into the Potomac each year —the fault of sewage infrastructure built in the Civil War era. The current system uses the same tunnel to transport wastewater and rainwater. On dry days this system works reasonably well, but when more than a quarter inch of rain falls, the system overflows and tons of sewage spills into the river.
Thankfully, in recent years the Environmental Protection Agency has forced DC officials to implement a 1987 amendment to the Clean Water Act, which requires cities to address pollution from combined sewage overflows. As a result, construction is now underway on a new tunnel that is expected to divert 96% of sewage that is currently dumped in the river. This is a huge victory in the fight against pollution in the Potomac, and it should be celebrated.
However, there are still miles to go before we can sleep in peace. Many above-ground issues need to be addressed as well. The river environmentalist specialist Luna B. Leopold was once quoted saying that “the health of our water is the principal measure of how we live on the land.” As residents of the Potomac area, it is Georgetown’s duty to improve how we live upon our land. We can help protect the river by raising funds to install green roofs, planting rain gardens, and pouring porous pavement instead of asphalt on campus. All of these efforts will reduce the amount of pollution that is washed into the river after rainfall. Instead, rainwater will be absorbed and naturally filtered, before making its way back to the river. These are simple efforts we should enthusiastically pursue to protect one of Georgetown’s most precious gems.
“Where Potomac’s tide is streaming,
From her spires and steeples beaming,
See the grand old banner gleaming:
Georgetown’s Blue and Gray.”
– Georgetown’s Alma Mater
Lauren Gros is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. The Modern Lens appears every other Thursday on thehoya.com.