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D.C. is adding freshwater mussels to the Anacostia River to help clean it

35,000 native mussels will be reintroduced to the river, city officials say

The Anacostia River under clouds and blue skies. Trees are seen across the river.
The Anacostia River as seen from Capitol Riverfront
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Tens of thousands of bivalves are coming to the Anacostia River. A new conservation effort led by D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) will see 35,000 native mussels reintroduced to the river, thanks to a $400,000 grant awarded to the Anacostia Watershed Society. The local nonprofit will work with 400 city youth to bring four species of mussels to the water: Eastern elliptio, Alewife floater, Eastern lampmussel, and Eastern poundmussel.

The initiative is targeted at Kingman Lake and at least two tributaries of the more than 8-mile river, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration. “This work will provide critical data about the viability for long-term habitat potential for mussel restoration throughout the District, and will ensure a new generation of Washingtonians learns about the importance of fresh water mussels to our ecosystem,” her office said in a recent release.

As DOEE director Tommy Wells noted, freshwater mussels help clean rivers, which in turn results in better conditions for other forms of aquatic life, including fish and grasses. DOEE is currently attempting to reduce environmental threats to 75 aquatic species in the District.

Last year, the Anacostia River was given its first passing grade ever for water quality by the Anacostia Watershed Society, which regularly tracks the river’s health: a D-minus. But due in large part to heavy rains that caused runoff, the river again received a failing grade this year. City officials and environmentalists hope the Anacostia is swimmable and fishable by 2025.