By Ken Terzian
An April 24th community meeting with a presentation by DC Water General Manager George Hawkins gave neighbors lots of information about challenges, successes, and plans for improvement throughout the water and sewer system.
With an increase in the 2013 budget being proposed to their board, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) has been conducting Town Hall Meetings to share with the community where the money is spent for improvements and its impact on service.
DC Water purchases water from the Washington Aqueduct, run by the Army Corps of Engineers, which pulls water from the Potomac River at Great Falls and at Little Falls. Water is processed and stored in four locations at differing elevations where it can be efficiently distributed throughout the service area. Once used, the sanitary sewer system returns water to the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, a state-of-the-art facility, for processing and return back to the Potomac. Mr. Hawkins commented that the water is cleaner than the river it returns to, and is one of ten top spots in the country for bass fishing!
While Forest Hills has a separate sanitary sewer from the storm sewer, many parts of the city have a combined system. The downside of a combined system design is that during heavy rains, the storm sewer can fill the system to capacity, forcing the direct overflow into the Potomac of both storm and sanitary waste.
The upside of this system is that during normal flows, both the street run off and sanitary flow are treated. On the flip side, the downside of a separated storm and sanitary system such as we have in Forest Hills is that street run off goes directly into the river, as does the water from gutters and downspouts if fed directly to the curb. Improvement through Low Impact Development or LID is the subject of a follow-up article.
The largest of four expenditures driving the budget for DC Water is a 2.6 billion dollar Clean Rivers project. This consists of constructing underground tunnels to allow for storage of water from the system in heavy rains to hold for later treatment, thus avoiding direct discharge into the Potomac. The second budget driver is the construction of a 950 million dollar nutrient removal plant. Both of these projects are required through EPA action by Federal court consent decrees.
The remaining two projects are discretionary and include a 470 million dollar plant to capture energy from sanitary waste processing by using digesters, providing power generation of about 13 Megawatts and at the same time transforming the waste into a clean nutrient fertilizer. This plant is a leading technology new to North America. The final project is focused on replacement of aging parts of the system, pipes and valves, moving from a recent 1/3 of 1% replacement rate to a 1% replacement rate. The current rate is about half of 1%, meaning that replacement is on a 200-year cycle.
The proposed rate increase to cover these costs is being proposed at 9.9%, which for an average family represents an increased monthly charge from $65.62 to $72.12. This still represents a cost of about a penny a gallon.
The May 9, 2012 public meeting for comment on the proposed budget will be held at 777 North Capital Street, NE at 6:30 pm. Further information can be obtained by emailing email@example.com, or by writing to the Board Secretary at 5000 Overlook Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20032.
Please sign up to become a member of the Forest Hills listserv to get timely notice of upcoming meetings on this matter. Also, I welcome your comments.