The Virginia State Senate does not have a reputation for progressive legislation. However, when it comes to our custom of sending untreated sewage directly into the Potomac River every time we have more than very light rain fall, it was right to enact a time limit on changing this deplorable situation.
I understand correcting the problem will be expensive. In actual fact the Potomac Yard Metro costs much more and the city has that in its near term plans. There’s also the complete streets program which produces very fancy paving projects such as the one on King Street near T.C. Williams High School, and an expansion of the recreation facilities at the Patrick Henry recreation center. We can do the necessary upgrades to our sewers including the one for the Oronoco outfall. We just have to rearrange our capital improvements priorities and use our borrowing capacity wisely.
Inadequate sewer capacity is a problem that has festered for decades. Even when money was appropriated for sewers, it mostly went to adding capacity for new developments.
Meanwhile real problems got ignored just because they could be. Many years ago my mentor in civic activism, the dedicated environmentalist, Ellen Pickering, was lamenting the lack of attention to the adequacy of our sewers at a small gathering ... Someone at the meeting, said to her, “I love you, Ellen, but you are just not going to get anyone interested in the sewers. That was a tragically true prediction. It took action from the Federal Environmental Administration just to get us started.
Who would have thought that a governmental body with no reputation for fighting for a cleaner environment, would finally call us to account. What we are doing now is akin to dumping icky garbage over the back fence for the neighbors to deal with. In our case what we are sending into the Potomac is 140 million gallons of raw sewage annually, according to an estimate by Clean Water Action.
Of course, it does affect us as well. Some supporters of the waterfront plan supported it because they thought it would improve the opportunities for water sports on the river. There was a new kayak launch in the plan. I don’t know whether it ever got built. We are sending our T.C. Williams crew team to row in the very area that is most affected. They aren’t given a choice because that’s where the crew facility is. When the new Oronoco condos were occupied, residents may not have understood they would be living near a liquid dumping ground.
It’s not unreasonable for citizens to expect a cleaner environment and for our local mayor and council to treat it as the time-sensitive priority that it is and get to work on it immediately.