by Marjorie Share
Given the extensiveness of the project, the DC Water and Sewer Authority and National Park Service want and need public input. You have an opportunity to do that between now and August 18th, and at a July 18th meeting hosted by ANC 3F (see details below).
At a June 18th meeting at American University, DC Water discussed the aging sewer infrastructure in these parks, and the repair challenges ahead.
The Soapstone project presents particular challenges due to the lack of easy access to the sewers and manholes, the historical significance of Rock Creek Park, the park’s ecology and the large mass of tree canopy and special trees. DC Water and NPS are very concerned about the potential loss of trees. The affected area includes the park between Connecticut Avenue and Broad Branch Road, especially along Albemarle Street, Linnean Avenue, Audubon Terrace, Lenore Lane and the rear of the BF Saul Connecticut Avenue development.
The sewer systems in both Soapstone Valley and Glover-Archbold Parks contain pipe segments and manholes with cracks, fractures, holes or root growth. The natural streambeds in both Parks contain some exposed sewer pipes and manholes. Not all segments and manholes are affected.
DC Water indicated that the sewer pipes (7,200 linear feet in Soapstone) are not currently leaking, “although their condition is expected to deteriorate.”
The agency has been studying the issues and exploring possible solutions over the past 18 months. At the June meeting, DC Water focused on four possible solutions:
(1) Full removal of the existing pipes – which would be highly disruptive to the trees;
(2) Construction of a new pump station nearby – which would create noise and odor, and carry aesthetic concerns and a heavy carbon footprint;
(3) Trenchless lining of existing pipes – which is less intrusive on trees and surrounding homes and landscape; and
(4) Abandoning storm piping completely, and creating trenchless, new construction.
DC Water also indicated that rehabilitation of the sewers will NOT alleviate the foul odor in Soapstone except for that which comes from manholes. The smell seems to come from non-sewer buildup in the streams, and the color of the water is due to chemical runoff from homes and streets, according to DC Water.
DC Water’s stated goals
The purpose of this project is to a) repair, rehabilitate, improve, replace, and/or relocate the aging sewer infrastructure while maintaining park function and limited disturbance; b) improve the structural integrity of the sewer infrastructure, while maintaining adequate hydraulic capacity; c) reduce stream and groundwater infiltration, and potential sewer overflow; and d) eliminate exposed pipes and manholes to the greatest extent possible.
Thus far, no known option is without major consequences. The loss of trees is the most significant. The Park Service and DC Water are very concerned about preserving the tree canopy, but DC Water needs access to the pipes and manholes during and after rehabilitation. The larger the equipment, the greater the damage.
While the National Park Service could not cite an exact number at this stage, based upon their initial research they estimate the tree loss in Soapstone to be between 300 and 400 trees due to access alone. Total tree loss, according to NPS, would be even greater due to soil disturbance, compaction, erosion and other issues.
Bringing wide-bodied 18-wheelers into the park will create devastating loss, according to NPS. Less intrusive options such as epoxy liners, trenchless technologies and horizontal drilling require smaller equipment and narrower access routes.
Next steps – and what you can do
(1) Thursday, July 18th: ANC 3F and DC Water are holding ah hour-long presentation and q&a session for the Forest Hills community at 7:30 p.m., at the Methodist Home (4901 Connecticut Ave.)
(2) Sunday, August 18th: The deadline for submitting your comments to DC Water and the National Park Service. They are seeking your comments, fresh thinking, creative alternatives, additional ideas and options – including examples of successful projects in other parts of the United States and overseas that have required minimal environmental disruption. Other communities within the U.S. are experiencing similar sewer infrastructure problems.
After August 18th, DC Water and NPS plan to present alternative scenarios with detailed maps and pipe layouts.
(3) Educate yourself: Please use the following references for additional information.
(4) And contact your ANC representative and share this information with neighbors and local businesses.