WMCCA: Parks Works for Water Quality Protection

WMCCA: Parks Works for Water Quality Protection

Next WMCCA Meeting

Andy Frank, supervisor of the Environmental Engineering Section of Montgomery Parks, will be guest speaker at the Wednesday, Feb. 14 West Montgomery County Citizens Association meeting.

Frank’s group is responsible for all engineering aspects of construction on parkland. Since Parks owns the vast majority of stream valleys throughout Montgomery County, they are involved with a many water quality projects. Almost all of the ICC Environmental Mitigation work was done on parkland, and a large portion of the WSSC Consent Decree work impacts Parks. They also implement their own Water Quality projects in support of their NPDES MS4 Permit through Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

The Feb. 14 meeting will be held at 7:15 p.m. at the Potomac Community Center.

The public is always welcome to attend. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.

By and large, sewers are constructed in stream valleys as they are the lowest point in any landscape. This is one of the reasons WMCCA has opposed wholesale extension of sewer in low density areas of the county. First, the forest is cleared beside the stream. Heavy machinery is brought in to dig and install the pipe. Sewer pipes cross and recross streams and finally hook up to a central distribution carrier like the Dulles Interceptor. Once sewers are installed, the stream will be altered forever. Their presence underground acts as a conduit, draining natural wetlands. They can leak and break, spilling sewage and creating a widespread health hazard.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) operates and maintains more than 5,400 miles of sewer pipeline in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Most of these pipes were constructed in the late 1940s and ‘50s and are nearing the end of their useful lives.

The WSSC is engaged in several visible sewer rehab projects. One such is underway in Cabin John Creek. We've seen the equipment staged along River Road near the Beltway. Sewer rehabilitation is invasive but with most of our stream valleys in parkland, it gives Park engineers like our speaker a chance to partner with WSSC in creating wetlands and replanting as the heavy machinery pulls out.

Another recent visible project involved Parks partnering with the county Department of Transportation (DOT) when the bridge over Watts Branch on Piney Meetinghouse Road was replaced. The construction did impact the stream but offered a chance to restore a more natural streambank and plant trees on it after the project was complete. The result is visible from the new bridge.

With controversial proposals like the mid river intake, an attempt to bypass the silt in Watts Branch that enters the Potomac River at the WSSC Water Filtration Plant intake on River Road, we need to be talking about how to clean up the polluted stormwater coming into Watts Branch rather than simply bypassing it with a long straw into the river. As a source of drinking water for about three million people in the region, Watts Branch deserves better. With what we know now about merging biological and engineering expertise, making Watts Branch cleaner is well worth the effort.

Update on Ten-Year Water & Sewer Plan

By Ken Bawer

Some good news: due to the actions of the Montgomery Coalition to Stop Sewer Sprawl, of which WMCCA is a founding member, the next round of meetings on Montgomery County’s draft Water & Sewer Plan (https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/water/supply/county-water-plan.html#2017draft) — the full County Council work session — has been postponed until Feb. 27.

The Water & Sewer Plan guides waste treatment and drinking water service for the entire county. At stake: the ability to preserve the Agricultural Reserve and its adjoining low-density areas (where we live) which protect our drinking water.

We will again be meeting with County Council staff and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to demand changes in the draft Water & Sewer Plan to limit sewer line extensions into low density and rural areas. Sewer line extensions would threaten the quality of drinking water for 4.3 million Washington, D.C. area residents. Once sewer service is available, water quality and the environment inevitably degrade due to rezoning, higher density development, increased impervious surfaces, and increased stormwater runoff resulting in increased sediment and contaminants in streams.

One action that DEP is currently taking, and that could be codified in the new W&S Plan unless we act, is the use of bogus “septic sanitary surveys” in a back-door effort to sprawl sewer lines into low density and rural areas. The most egregious aspect is that properties are being declared public health problems and recommended for sewer service that do not even have failed or potentially failing septic systems. We have sent letters to both DEP and County Executive Ike Leggett asking that these sham “septic sanitary surveys” be temporarily halted. While the WMCCA Board is working this issue, individuals can also help. Please send a short note to County Executive Leggett at ocemail@montgomerycountymd.gov and copy the County Council at County.council@montgomerycountymd.gov with a message such as:

“I am asking for a common sense pause in DEP septic surveys, including the on-going North Potomac Highlands Septic Survey, until such time that the public and Council can vet the survey process and have the opportunity to provide feedback.

“I am outraged that the County wants to push sewer pipes into low density areas which will threaten our clean streams. WSSC spilled more than 9 million gallons of raw sewage into streams in the last 3 years, and more that 4 thousand gallons in the last 3 years into Muddy Branch and Watts Branch where my friends, neighbors, and children walk and play.”

Do not allow DEP’s flawed “septic surveys” to sprawl sewer lines into our long protected low density and rural areas.”

So that we can see how effectively our message is reaching our elected officials, please copy kbawer@msn.com.