ANC Round Up: Sewage Overflow Edition

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

Last night the ANC met for its June session. And as predicted by GM, the most interesting topic was overflowing sewage.

To Tunnel or Not to Tunnel

David McLaughlin, Director of Engineering and Technical Services for DC Water, presented on behalf of the sewer authority. As a bit of background: in 2004, the DC water and sewer authority (WASA, which it still is technically called, although it uses the trade name DC Water these days) entered a consent decree with the federal government to address the fact that in the older parts of the city, the household sewers and the storm drains are combined.

When storm drains get overwhelmed (like, say during Sunday’s squall) the combined system overflows into the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and Rock Creek. Thus what you flushed down the toilet Sunday night might now be drifting down the Potomac. Completely untreated.

As part of the decree, WASA/DC Water has agreed to build giant tunnels along the rivers. These tunnels will act a massive subterranean reservoirs to capture the overflow and hold it until the Blue Plains water treatment plant is ready to process it.

The Georgetown waterfront has about half a dozen sewage overflow spots. According to McLaughlin, at the location of each of these overflows a housing will need to be constructed to captured the overflow before it goes into the river. Then the water will be sent down massive access drains (McLaughlin said they could be as wide as 50 feet across) down to the tunnel. The tunnel itself will be 100 feet deep and over 100 feet wide. (They’re already digging a similar tunnel from the Blue Plains treatment facility to the southeast waterfront).

Needless to say, all this talk of major tunnel digging is of concern to neighbors and all the people who have come to love the refurbished waterfront park, which would likely need to get partially torn up again.

McLaughlin did mention that the city is exploring whether alternative measures can be taken instead of the tunnel. The idea is that by adopting and encouraging measures like green roofs and permeable surfaces, less water will get to the storm drains in the first place, and thus fewer overflows will occur. McLaughlin, however, was skeptical that such measures would eliminate the need for the tunnels altogether.

What everyone could agree on is that there is still plenty of time to hash it out. Construction on the tunnel wouldn’t start until 2019 at the earliest.

GM wants to give special acknowledgment out to the Citizens Association for flagging this as a potential hot topic way back in 2009.


The ANC called up the bigwigs behind the newly dubbed Graham hotel (which was the Monticello) to complain about the hotel’s roof deck.

After pointing out that it is a marvelous and popular attraction, the ANC pointed out that you could hear the amplified music all the way to N St. They wanted the representatives to agree right there to stop playing music at all on the roof. The reps balked, but were open to continuing the discussion. Since the ANC put in a formal protest to the hotel’s liquor license renewal, that discussion will begin presently.

Some Odds and Ends:

  • Maybe recognizing the absurdity of calling them “voluntary agreements” (i.e. agreements bars consent to live with to settle protests) ABRA now refers to them as settlement agreements, which is a lot more accurate.
  • The neighbors around the George Town Club are nervous about Bo Blair turning the club into a new Smith Point. The club claims no such change is coming and it looks like a voluntarysettlement agreement will be in the works.

1 Comment

Filed under ANC

One response to “ANC Round Up: Sewage Overflow Edition

  1. Nemo

    I don’t know whether this still happens, but once upon a time, manhole covers along “K” Street used to be forced into the air by storm sewer overflows after a heavy downpour.

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