by Tara D. Morrison
Rock Creek Park superintendent
From The Current’s Viewpoint section
The National Park Service appreciates the public interest generated from The Current’s coverage about the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority’s projects to address deteriorating sewer pipes in Glover Archbold Park and Soapstone Valley Park, which are administered by Rock Creek Park.
Since the beginning of the planning for these projects, we’ve explored several concepts with DC Water to address the issues with the pipes. These include replacing the pipes using open-trench excavation, relining the existing pipes with an epoxy resin, and running new sanitary sewer pipes off parkland.
Early in our discussions, it appeared that relining the existing pipes would be the least environmentally harmful approach. However, as planning progressed, it became clear that this approach would disturb up to 35 acres of parkland and remove between 650 and 950 trees greater than 17 inches in diameter in Glover Archbold Park. In Soapstone Valley Park, up to five acres of parkland would be disturbed and up to 160 trees of greater than 17-inch diameter would be removed. These numbers do not include the thousands of trees less than 17 inches in diameter that would be affected by the construction.
The impacts from removal or disturbance of potentially thousands of trees would be substantial. Critical habitat for birds and other animals living in or migrating through the parks would be lost. Large open areas would be created, fueling the growth of non-native invasive plants, which already threaten the environment in both parks. The cover provided by mature trees would be removed, increasing the temperature in the streams below and accelerating stormwater erosion that already is a serious issue in both parks.
And in 50 years — just as the parks begin to fully heal from these impacts — we may have to revisit these issues again. We are told that the relining would last a half-century at most and can be done only once. If that is the case, the pipes would need to be replaced, either in the parks or along city property.
We certainly recognize the condition of these sanitary sewers and the potential for very damaging consequences if we do nothing. The structural problems in the pipes and manholes — including cracks, holes, root growth inside pipes and exposed pipe in natural streambeds — pose unacceptable health, safety and environmental threats. We are committed to working closely with DC Water for ways to correct these deficiencies.
However, the possible damage to park resources from relining the pipes requires that we look very closely again at all the options for completing these projects and all the methods that could minimize impacts to Glover Archbold and Soapstone Valley parks. This reexamination also could potentially avoid the much greater damage to the parkland that would occur when a complete replacement of the pipes is needed in 50 years.
DC Water is aware of our concerns and the need to more thoroughly investigate alternatives. We have every reason to believe that DC Water will complete this task in the near future and provide the National Park Service and the public with the information.
We remain committed to working with DC Water to ensure that a thorough study of alternatives is completed in full compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, and that the sewer infrastructure is fixed as quickly as possible. We encourage the public to become involved and provide feedback. Comments can be made online at the National Park Service’s Planning, Environment and Public Comment website. To submit comments, visit go.usa.gov/jngA.
Thank you for your coverage about these critical projects.
Tara D. Morrison is superintendent of Rock Creek Park. Reprinted, with permission, from the July 31st issue of The Northwest Current.