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By: Angela Trenkle

Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on November 8th 2020 at Great Falls Park in Virginia

If you are a resident in the DC Metropolitan area, chances are you have come across the Potomac River in some form, whether it is the river proper or one of the river’s tributaries, the mighty Potomac River is a landmark of the area in the same way that some of the famous buildings are in the downtown DC area. There are tales of the Potomac that stretch back to some of the nation’s earliest presidents reaping its benefits. If rivers could talk, the Potomac would have an endless number of historical accounts to pass along for the world to learn.

Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on November 8th 2020 at Great Falls Park in Virginia

Today, the Potomac River watershed is home to approximately 5 million people as well as millions of animals and plants that depend on it for its many resources. Clean drinking water is at the top of the list followed by food sources for both humans and animals that occupy the watershed. The river is also utilized by hundreds during the warmer months of the year for recreational activities, including, but not limited to, kayaking, fishing, hiking, bird watching, and stand-up paddle boarding.

Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on August 8th, 2020 at Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge on the Potomac River

For a period of time from the 1960s to the late 2000s, the Potomac River was in a state of decline and poor health. Water clarity was at an all time low, trash and algae were abundant, and native fish suffered because of the urban runoff that was making its way into their homes along the river. This has begun to turn around since the beginning of the 2010s, thanks to several key processes that were put into place. 

One such process is the creation of the Potomac River Report Card. The report card, which began in 2007, provides residents of the watershed an easy format to view the different aspects of the river in terms of its health and the areas in which it improves as well as declines. This gives residents of the watershed a visual of what is happening and the areas that they can target for improvement. Thanks to this report card, in addition to the other processes put into place for the river, the Potomac has gone from an abysmal grade of “D” in 2007 to a peak grade of a “B” just three years ago in 2018. In 2020, the grade slipped slightly to a B-, showing that the river recovery is plateauing. Now is a turning point to ensure that it does not slip any further.

Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on November 8th 2020 at Great Falls Park in Virginia

To ensure that the flora and fauna thrive as well as make sure that our grandchildren can appreciate the river in the same way we have, you too can do your part to make a difference. Some ways that you can help include:

  1. Participating in stream cleanups to prevent water pollution and premature death of wildlife.
  2. Planting trees as forest buffers to cool stream temperatures and create forest corridors for animal travel.
  3. Use your voice to advocate for stronger water protection laws. 
  4. Donate to organizations that are working towards protecting the Potomac River and its tributaries.
Photo Credit: Angela Trenkle, on August 8th 2020 at Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge (See left of photo)

As you can see, there are many benefits to the Potomac River not only for us, but for the animals and plants that depend on it for survival. By each of us doing our part and coming together with a common goal to make a difference, we can ensure that the Potomac is around for many generations to enjoy.

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Angela Trenkle is a scientific technical writer who was born and raised in Maryland. Her love of science combined with her passion for writing led her into the field of scientific technical communication at a pre-clinical research organization where her work involves contributing to the documentation of study reports for various infectious diseases including COVID-19. Preserving the natural world is an important goal for her and she plans to use what she has learned over the years to help do her part in restoring local watersheds for future generations to enjoy. When she is not working, she enjoys reading, writing, traveling, running, weightlifting, and spending as much time outdoors as possible.