The Potomac River was given a D+ grade in environmental health by the Potomac Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental group, in a report released this week assessing the conditions of major U.S. rivers.

According to the report, the river’s poor condition is due largely to the contaminated runoff that continually enters the river. This runoff is caused primarily by unchecked development, deforestation and a major increase in the amount of paved areas surrounding the Potomac.

“Much improvement is needed both to protect the health of the river and the Chesapeake Bay,” Hedrick Belin, president of the Potomac Conservancy, said in an informational film posted on YouTube.

A plan set forth by the District of Columbia Water and Sewage Authority in 2002 seeks to alleviate the problem of sewer runoff by creating a storage tunnel, rehabilitating the Potomac pumping station and consolidating combined sewer overflows in the Georgetown Waterfront area. If implemented, this plan would cost approximately $250 million.

The Potomac Conservancy said in a press release that such a plan is a step in the right direction, but more is needed to ensure the long-term health of the river.

In addition, Belin said that there are other things that can be done to improve the state of the Potomac.

“We are calling for decision-makers in both Maryland and Virginia to enact aggressive stormwater regulations and to use low-impact development techniques with both new and existing construction,” he said. “The actions we take or fail to take are going to have a profound impact on the river.”

According to the Potomac Conservancy report, there recently have been unnatural sex changes occurring in fish that inhabit the Potomac River, as male smallmouth bass have been developing both male and female traits. Forty-two percent of the smallmouth bass population in the Potomac has even begun to produce eggs, the report said. This unnatural occurrence may be the result of the runoff of fertilizers, animal hormones and other pollutants into the Potomac, according to the report.

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