Tuesday, November 13, 2007

DC Waterways

A report from the Potomac Conservancy suggests that water quality in the Potomac River may be deteriorating.

The report comes as federal scientists say that more "intersex" fish, showing elements of both genders, are being found in the river. Previous studies had shown that male bass in District waters were growing eggs; new data show that female fish also seem to be developing abnormally, one researcher said yesterday.

The Potomac Conservancy's report cites the intersex problem -- along with high levels of dirt, sewage and other pollutants -- to show that the Potomac might be in danger of backsliding after a decades-long rehabilitation.

"We've plateaued," said Hedrick Belin, president of the conservancy, which has pushed for cleaner water and the protection of land along the Potomac's banks. "The improvements that we've made, the progress, has stalled out."
Growing suburbanization in the Potomac watershed means more hard surfaces for stormwater runoff, which typically carries pollution from roadways and pesticides and fertilizer from lawns. Some of the fish problems have been associated with the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant at the southern tip of DC. It is possible that agricultural or industrial sources of endocrine disruptors also contribute to that problem.

You can read the full report from the Conservancy and some commentary from the Baltimore Sun Bay & Environment Blog.

Also, following up on the CSX derailment into the Anacostia, the railroad reports that the coal cars rolled into the river by themselves:
On Friday afternoon, a CSX operator failed to secure the brakes properly while moving the cars around the Benning rail yard in Anacostia, CSX Transportation officials have said. Eighty-nine cars coasted more than a quarter-mile before rolling onto a closed span of bridge near the Sousa Bridge that then collapsed. Ten cars derailed, and six tumbled into the river. The bridge span was closed in November 2006 after an inspection revealed structural problems. The cars, which have a capacity of 100 tons of coal, were full when the accident occurred.

"When you mix coal dust with water, there's a chemical reaction that occurs," said Jim Connolly, executive director of the Anacostia Watershed Society. "We're very concerned that the coal be removed as quickly as possible."
If there are two spans crossing the Anacostia at this location, presumably there are multiple crossover points between the tracks leading up to the spans. Aside from the failure to set the brakes, what I wonder is why crossover switches were open to the closed span.