By Michelle Werts

Anacostia River in Washington, D.C.
Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., an Urban Waters Federal Partnership site. Credit: Daniel Lobo

A few years ago, a friend and I decided to take an impromptu canoeing trip along the Potomac River. It was a lovely experience … until I attempted to climb out of the canoe and instead of finding myself on a dry dock, I found myself halfway submerged in the murky waters of the Potomac. After my laughter at my sheer clumsiness subsided, my next thought was “I need a shower and may need to burn these clothes” because anyone who lives in the D.C. area knows that the waters of the local Potomac and Anacostia Rivers are not the most sanitary places around. An innovative new program headed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is trying to change that.

Two years ago, the Urban Waters Federal Partnership was formed under the direction of the EPA, who is working on the project with 13 other agencies, with a goal to “help urban and metropolitan areas, particularly those that are underserved or economically distressed, connect with their waterways and work to improve them.” Focusing on seven pilot locations, including D.C.’s Anacostia River, the program is designed to stimulate local economies, create jobs, improve quality of life and protect local health by improving waterways.

Based on the success of the first year of the program, on Friday, the EPA announced that it is expanding its Urban Waters Federal Partnership to include 11 new projects from Boston’s Mystic River to Albuquerque’s Middle Rio Grande and from Michigan’s Grand River to Puerto Rico’s Martin Pena Canal. In the announcement of the expansion, Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe says, “Since we launched the Urban Waters Federal Partnership two years ago, we’ve seen firsthand what the transformation of degraded urban waterways into clean, healthy and treasured centerpieces can do for local communities — not only from an aesthetic standpoint, but also from a public health and economic standpoint. Restored urban waters can reinvigorate communities, and I am confident the new project locations will see the same success the partnership’s efforts have already supported across the country.” Well said, Acting Administrator Perciasepe.

South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Colo.
South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, Colo., an Urban Waters Federal Partnership site. Credit: John Holm

At American Forests, we wholeheartedly agree with the EPA that our nation’s waterways are an important aspect of healthy communities and ecosystems. In fact, forests are natural protectors of rivers, streams and the like, which is why American Forests Global ReLeaf has supported many restoration projects that benefit waterways and riparian areas over the years. In addition, this year, in Detroit, Mich., American Forests Community ReLeaf is helping evaluate the ecosystem services of the city’s riparian forest in Rouge Park to help restore it for the benefit of the Motor City.

We’re doing our part to help waterways, but we want to make sure that the EPA and its partner agencies get the opportunity to do all they can, too. And by opportunity, I mean funding, aka appropriations. Therefore, American Forests supports funding the Urban Waters Federal Partnership in FY2014 at FY2012 levels — at a minimum. In addition, we also support funding for the EPA’s Sustainable Water Infrastructure, which will be looking at green infrastructure options for sustainable water. Let’s hope Congress agrees and gives the agency and its programs the appropriations it needs to help create jobs, stimulate economies, protect our waterways and improve community health.