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River water on the menu for do-gooder guests at Potomac Conservancy dinner

By The Reliable Source

The Potomac Conservancy's dinner at the historic Potomac Boat Club in Georgetown on Tuesday, November 9, 2010. (Amy Argetsinger/TWP)

Time for Chapter 1,398 of our occasional series, "Only in Washington." Only in Washington ... would the hosts assign their guests homework to complete before a dinner party.

Hedrick Belin didn't just want the supporters who turned out for the Potomac Conservancy's dinner on the Georgetown waterfront Tuesday night to open their wallets. He wanted to open their minds. So the nonprofit's president sent them each a poem about the Potomac River to read before they came. And also an elegant little glass bottle that he asked them to fill with water straight from the river -- with directions to bring the filled bottle to dinner, and explain how they got it.

A jug of cool, refreshing, Potomac River water. (Amy Argetsinger/TWP)

Actually, does that sound more like an only-in-California thing? Maybe the only-in-Washington part came in how the well-heeled do-gooder elite completed their assignments.

"I sent my housekeeper to the Tidal Basin," said Georgetown mega-developer Anthony Lanier. She told him she went to the C&O Canal instead: Easier to reach.

With co-host Eric Kessler of Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors, the conservancy set a table for 30 guests in the historic Potomac Boat Club in the shadow of Key Bridge, windows open to catch the river air. The guests, going around the table one by one, presented their bottles of water and sheepish stories that spoke of busy lives and a river so close yet so far away.

"To tell you the truth," said guest Bill Clarke, "the water I got tonight is from the dock outside." He ventured that he probably wasn't the only procrastinator to pull that trick; indeed he was not. There were sighs around the table from the non-completers as Belin explained he got his sample from Takoma Park's Sligo Creek. (You mean, THAT counts?) Biotech entrepreneur Chuck Fleischman said he went to the Bethesda shoreline, where a hand-drawn ferry allows access to Sycamore Island. But "I was wearing a suit, and I didn't want to have to lower myself down to the water" -- so he got his teenage daughter to do it.

"I took my bottle to Thompson Boat Center," said one woman, "and the nice man filled it for me." Another woman explained that she got some river water and topped it off with wildflowers -- but then her housekeeper threw it out because it looked dirty.
Lessons here and there: Climate Policy Center founder Rafe Pomerance recalled a similar water-gathering with his daughter for an elementary school assignment, 25 years ago. Since then, he noted, "there's been improvement."

Tamara Copeland, president of Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, said she went to the Anacostia waterfront near Arena Stage. "A wonderful vendor helped me. He assured me that it was Potomac water -- and that I shouldn't drink it."

She didn't. (No one did at the dinner; that wasn't the point.) But, she said, "it was clearer than I expected."

By The Reliable Source  | November 11, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
Categories:  Parties  
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