The Clean Water Blog

Nasty Brown liquid discharged from a pipe. Photo credit: Dragana Gerasimoski / Shutterstock

We Must Protect the Potomac River from Toxic Sewage Dumping

Every time it rains, the combined sewer systems of Washington D.C. and the City of Alexandria dump untreated sewage into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. Although the District has begun projects designed to prevent raw sewage from entering local waterways and rivers, such as holding tunnels, Alexandria recently missed an opportunity to adopt a modern Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) for its own aging sewer system. This lack of foresight in developing a long-term solution now puts Alexandria at risk for replacing the District of Columbia as the largest source of pollution for the Potomac in the near future.

The goal of the Clean Water Act is to restore the health of our rivers so they are fishable and swimmable. Raw sewage is a combination of human excrement and wastewater that contains E. coli and other pathogens—definitely not swimmable and fishable.

Local watersheds, such as Hunting Creek, Cameron Run, and Holmes Run, already exceed water quality standards for E. coli. The unfortunate decision to continue with the current proposed LTCP for Alexandria means that more than half of the current sewage accounted for by the city will be dumped into the Potomac. This ultimately translates to 70 million gallons of contaminated water dumped into the river every single year for the next 20 to 30 years. Surely the City of Alexandria, certified as an “Eco-City” by Virginia Tech, can do a better job honoring its charter by committing to eliminate all sewage discharges so we can achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act.

The City must submit an updated LTCP by the end of August 2016 to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ). Take action by sending a comment to the City of Alexandria and the VDEQ to make sure that Alexandria’s long term plan to reduce toxic wastewater will lead to real water quality improvements.