To the Editor:
As cited in last week’s article, “Keeping Sewage Out of River by 2035,” the sewage pipes under the streets of Old Town were laid in 1890 to remove both storm water and human waste. Today, during rainstorms, these 120-year-old pipes overflow rain-diluted sewage into the Potomac. In this day and age, that’s not OK. Solving the problem will require 21st century thinking and collaboration.
There are a variety of options that must work together to address this problem. One option involves ripping up the streets of Old Town to replace the old sewer pipes with much larger ones. This would be prohibitively expensive and hugely disruptive to the residents and businesses of Old Town. Another requires the use and retrofitting of “green infrastructure” technology, like permeable pavement, bioretention basins, rain barrels, tree boxes and green roofs in our community. A third option is to build large, underground storage tanks to capture the extra flow during rainstorms and then gradually pipe it to Alexandria Renew Enterprise’s updated wastewater treatment plant rather than allow it to discharge. Richmond and the District of Columbia, among others, face the same sewage overflow problem as Alexandria — and they’re already building underground storage tanks or tunnels.
Unlike Richmond and D.C., where one agency handles both the collection and treatment of sewage, Alexandria has two separate entities responsible for sanitary sewage: the city government and Alexandria Renew Enterprises. The city operates the sewer lines under the Old Town streets; Alexandria Renew Enterprises operates the treatment plant and the large trunk lines that collect all of the dry weather dirty water from the city’s sewer lines. The Alexandria Sanitation Authority (later renamed Alexandria Renew Enterprises) was created in 1952 to help the city government treat its wastewater when Alexandria had all of its sewage discharging into the Potomac.
Solving the current sewer overflow problems will require the city and Alexandria Renew to work together in more creative ways than in our past. Efforts have begun between Alexandria Renew and the city to discuss the most cost-effective and environmentally-responsible solutions to this challenge. Both are currently exploring ways to get the most out of public dollars by building long-lasting infrastructure that could capture both the combined sewer overflows and wet weather.
Solving the problem of an antiquated combined sewer system requires collaboration between all of our public agencies charged with cleaning dirty water and the support of our community. We welcome the opportunity to continue to work together to create effective and efficient water environment solutions that will serve all Alexandrians in the 21st century and beyond.
John B. Hill
Chairman, Board of Directors
Alexandria Renew Enterprises