Potomac’s Pollution Today 'Is Harder to See'
River advocates honor Alexandra Cousteau.
“Fifty years ago the Potomac River was a national disgrace. It really smelled,” commented Hedrick Belin, president of the Potomac Conservancy in opening the “Romp on the River” at River Farm on Sept. 19.
Much of the obvious pollution has been reduced, he contended. Nutrient pollution from agricultural operations has declined, but today, the more serious problem is that pollution is more diffuse and harder to see.
“It doesn’t smell,” he explained. Belin was referring to “nonpoint” pollution carried to the river in stormwater runoff from suburbia’s hard surfaces like roofs and parking lots and from farms.
Belin said that nutrients from agriculture have been reduced and 50 miles of river frontage protected, but “special interests want to roll back” these advances.
“The river needs people to speak up for it. Advocates need to build an army to fight,” he challenged.
The gala honored Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of French marine
conservationist and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. Conservancy Board Chair Bill Eichbaum presented her with the river champion award. Cousteau, absent because of illness, is the founder of the Blue Legacy Fund, an initiative designed to inspire people to take action on critical water issues.
At the event, Conservancy officials showed a video that Cousteau produced, titled “Our Nation’s River: A System on the Edge.” In the film, she argues that people have lost their connection to rivers and the watersheds in which they live, and she decries shopping malls and suburban sprawl that funnel pollutants into the waterways.
In accepting the award on her behalf, Ben Scheelk, said that Americans have long lived with the “myth of abundance, but we must now live in an age of limits.”
Our lifestyles have created dead zones in rivers and fragmented natural systems, he offered.
“The Potomac speaks to who we are. It is the lifeblood of our region,” he told the crowd of 70 at the event.
Scheelk urged people to turn the Potomac River from a national disgrace to a source of national pride. “We are taking it back, drop by drop,” he said.
Among the attendees were representatives of Capital One Bank, Business Bank, General Dynamics, BOWA, the Chesapeake Conservancy and the
National Parks and Conservation Association.
The Potomac Conservancy is a nonprofit organization established to safeguard the lands and waters of the Potomac River and its tributaries, the self-described “voice of the nation’s river.”