Potomac River Basin director shares advice for reducing water pollution

More than five million people get their drinking water from the Potomac River Basin.

On this week’s episode of Leaders and Legends in Government, Aileen Black spoke with Michael Nardolilli, executive director of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.

Michael Nardolilli, executive director of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin

The Potomac River Basin — about 14,000 square miles — touches five jurisdictions: Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. Congress realized early on how vital an interstate commission would be to deal with any water or resource-related problems. Nardolilli said his team is dedicated to protecting and enhancing the river’s water and resources through science, education and regional cooperation.

“We are all polluters of the Potomac River in one way or the other,” Nardolilli said. “Every time we don’t think about when we use a straw, when we use a bottled water, we are actually contributing to the pollution that’s in the Potomac River. And so there are a lot of steps, and we have this on our website, that people can take to lower their impact on the water quality.”

Nitrogen from agriculture, phosphorus from things like fertilizer and dishwasher detergents, and sediment from primarily construction sites, are three basic components of non-source pollution. Nardolilli said there are ways everyone can join in to reduce these pollutants.

During the course of the show, Nardolilli discusses how his team partners with other groups and volunteers to study and improve the area’s water quality, the history of the Potomac River, and how the average person may consume a credit card’s worth of micro-plastic a week from the fish and some of the other potential dangers associated with the river,

“When you throw away a bottle, a plastic bottle [or] water bottle, or a straw, it lasts forever. But not in that form,” he said. “It actually breaks down through the sunlight, water and other elements, and it becomes smaller and smaller and smaller until it gets to be about the size of a grain of rice. That’s a micro-plastic.”

The increase of pollutants in the river have in some cases pushed away the fish, including shad, that would normally be found in the Potomac River. Some have returned as the government began to pass laws banning certain plastics and chemicals from products.

Nardolilli said one solution to decreasing water pollution even more is to look closer at the source: Us.

Related Stories


Leaders and Legends

Leaders and Legends

Host Aileen Black interviews federal leaders who have left their mark on government and made a lasting imprint on the nation. Hear what goes on behind the scenes in the nation's capital and why working for the federal government is so unique. Subscribe on PodcastOne.