Letter to the Editor: Intake Project Could Meet Other Needs

Letter to the Editor: Intake Project Could Meet Other Needs

Intake Project Could Meet Other Needs

To the Editor:

The following open letter was addressed to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

Re: Potomac Submerged Channel Intake

Thank you for asking for community participation in the planning and decision-making process for the middle river intake at the Potomac WSSC water filtration plan. I am aware of the need for cleaner water provided by a mid-river intake and for possible future capacity increase. I understand that the existing intake will continue to be used and maintained and that WSSC will have the option of pulling water from either source.

My main concern and desire are that the design will take into consideration the long-term use of the park and surrounding environment and that WSSC will leave our park even better after this project is completed. I have lived near Swain’s Lock all my life and continue to enjoy the canal 3-4 times a week having grown to love this resource since childhood.

I observed the reconstruction of the current intake in 1989. The project impressed me as a particularly well-designed civil infrastructure undertaking. A unique feature of the design (which I hope can be repeated) was the open view of the construction throughout all phases of construction without undermining security or safety. I only remember a few days that the tow path or canal was closed.

A key element of the “award-winning design” was that whatever was visible of the intake would have to be attractive, accessible, and educational, and the project was a real success from that point of view:

  • A tasteful monument out of view of the towpath informs visitors of the Potomac water shed.

  • Private benches allow peaceful views of the river.

  • An overlook now used for good fishing.

  • A stair path leads to benches above the intake that allow for long views up and down the river.

  • Everything is mostly hidden by earth berms, new landscape and reforestation.

  • Every visible surface tells a story to the visitor about the river such as past flood stage levels, etc.

In 2002 after the 9/11 attack, WSSC took precautions and put up an unsightly security fence around most of the structure which undermined the intent of the original design. It is important to the success of the new project and the community that this kind of a creative yet still safe and secure design be incorporated in the revised intake, and that the finished project be an improvement to the park or, at least, not a detriment.

I know that NPS with EA Engineering Science and Technology have done a very detailed study of the environmental effects of the project and have suggested recommendations to minimize impact and long-term recovery. The National Park Service (NPS) team has also carefully quantified the costs to the park of impact to visitors and maintenance during this project.

All of us, US citizens as well as international visitors to the C & O National Historic Park (NHP), pay with our taxes and fees paid at certain access points along the park to protect this great resource. Building this mid-river intake will incur costs to our park which I know WSSC recognizes. NPS with Chris Stubbs’ oversight has come up with a very reasonable estimate for these elements on a project of this scale. His estimate of approximately 6 million for the C & O canal National Park is a beginning. Beyond protecting the park from the impacts from the new river intake, the C & O NHP is seriously in need of additional attention. As a builder myself for 40 years, I can tell you knowledgably that this would be the most effective time to make the repairs and do the deferred maintenance projects that are needed. Because the C&O NHP’s centrality to our nation’s capital, WSSC would be making an outstanding contribution if it would help correct these problems at the same time that it would be gaining access to the river. Some of these projects could include:

  • Repairs to the Seneca weir wall at the canal water intake at Violet’s Lock.

  • Dredging of the canal between Swains and Pennyfield Lock.

  • Updates and repairs to the river flood plain and minor repairs to wash outs.

  • Watering of the section of the canal from Violets to Seneca Creek.

The damage at the Violets Lock canal intake has made maintenance of the water levels of the canal almost impossible. There are weeks that the Mercer Canal Boat at Great Falls cannot run at all, frustrating thousands of visitors. Dredging would make it possible to extend the Mercer’s range through Swain’s Lock. I know from my experience that these projects would be much more easily done now by a contractor prepared to take on the new mid-river intake and would be a relatively small line item in the estimates for that project. I would hope that WSSC would step up as good civic citizens to support and improve our national park.

As suggested by West Montgomery County Citizens Association, I too would like to see improvements to the Watts branch watershed and its storm water management. This will take long-term planning and perseverance. Thanks are already due to the MC Department of Permitting regarding enforcement of increased run-off standards for new construction and remodeling. Most of the Watts Branch watershed is fully developed, and yet we still can and should do better.

Friends of the Great Falls Tavern and the C & O Canal Trust have made great strides in raising monies to address needed repairs, but it can never fully meet the need. I hope WSSC will take this opportunity to make a notable commitment to helping make the C&O NHP the treasure that we can again be proud of.

Guy Semmes

Hopkins & Porter