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Another Pipe in the River

Montgomery County’s water provider, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) will hold an informational meeting about their plans to build a submerged channel intake pipe 500 feet into the Potomac River by its Potomac Water Filtration plant.

The meeting is set to provide the public with the reasons behind WSSC’s desire to build the pipe, which would be constructed into the river about a mile west of Swains Lock.

WSSC received approval to conduct the study about building the pipe two years ago from the County Council. Last year, the council’s Transportation and Environment committee reviewed the study.

In the course of the review, the committee added language clarifying that the council must review the completed study and approve moving forward with any design and construction.

WSSC says that by building the pipe further out into the river, they will avoid the contaminants and sediment from the nearby Watts Branch. This they say will provide customers with a cleaner, more stable source of water.

Environmental groups assert that it would be better, and possibly more cost effective to clean up the Watts Branch.

WSSC officials also say that by building a submerged pipe, they will avoid issues concerns of leaves and ice which occasionally block the current intake along the river’s edge. They state that if the new pipe is built, the current intake would not be used any longer, and that they do not anticipate drawing any more water from the river than they currently do.

The Fairfax County Water Authority recently completed construction of a mid-river intake pipe into the Potomac which generated a court case that went to the Supreme Court, resulting in a ruling in favor of Virginia.

As a result of the decision, Virginia utilities may now build pipes into the river, which is owned by Maryland, without any regulation from Maryland.

WSSC, however, still needs to comply with Maryland law when constructing its pipe.

The WSSC study is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2005. It is being conducted by Montgomery Watson Harza of Chicago at a cost of $1 million.