It’s been almost a year since our last update on the century-old sewers running through Soapstone Valley, and almost six years since DC Water and the National Park Service revealed plans to do something about them. So first, a recap:
Both the National Park Service and DC Water worry the aging sewer pipes (6,200 linear feet plus 22 manholes) will eventually rupture and send raw sewage into the Rock Creek ecosystem. At the first community meeting on the Soapstone sewer rehabilitation project in 2013, DC Water planners floated a few ideas, including replacing pipes or relining the existing ones. NPS then raised concerns about the proposals’ impact on the trees, as many as 400, depending on the option.
Two years passed, no doubt with a lot of behind-the-scenes discussion between DC Water and NPS. In 2015, at the Park Service’s request, DC Water put another option on the table – taking the sewage pipe out of the stream bed.
This would require two pumping stations – one behind Park Van Ness and another just to the north of the Van Ness East condominiums, to be accessed via paved road from Audubon Terrace through Soapstone Valley and over the stream. DC Water estimated the impact on trees from rerouting would be greater than its preferred alternative – relining the pipes. (Read more about the relining process: “How DC Water repaired a 1908 sewer pipe in Soapstone Valley”)
At that time, the agencies said the environmental assessment of the proposals would be available for public comment by the beginning of 2016. Instead, another two years passed. A May 2018 update from ANC 3F Commissioner Naomi Rutenberg revealed that DC Water and NPS were still going back and forth on a draft “Statement of Findings,” and once that was approved, DC Water would move forward on the environmental assessment process.
Finally, in February 2019, DC Water gave another update to ANC 3F. The Park Service approved the Statement of Findings in June 2018, and the two agencies have since been passing the draft environmental assessment back and forth for review and comment. In February, NPS provided its latest review comments. DC Water will update the draft EA and send it back to NPS this spring or summer. It’s unclear how many more rounds this will go through before the public gets to see and comment on the EA.
DC Water periodically updates this website on the review process.