In just a few days, Santa Claus makes his annual jetski trip on the Potomac River. Let’s hope he doesn’t fall into the water. While Santa knows if you’ve been naughty or nice, he must not know the river is becoming an environmental cesspool. Because of high bacteria levels, the river is not safe to swim or fish. Over the past 20 years, our city has dumped more than 2.3 million gallons of combined sewer overflow into our river.
How can this happen?
In 1990, Virginia Gov Douglas Wilder received a joint report from the General Assembly that our city’s sewer system was regularly dumping sewer waste directly into the Potomac River. At that time, the estimated cost to fix the problem was $20 million.
Rather than bold leadership and responsible planning, our city leaders ignored the problem and applied for waivers. We see this pattern of neglect across our city such as deferred school infrastructure and City Hall building issues.
In addition to not fixing the problems, our city leaders added fuel to the fire as overcapacity was compounded with even more development.
This year, the Virginia House of Delegates said we had stalled long enough and legislation was passed and signed by the Governor to stop polluting the Potomac River. Now instead of an estimated cost of seven million in 1990, we now face an estimated cost of $400 million.
Where will those funds come from?
Our real estate property taxes are already among the highest in Northern Virginia. Our debt levels are already massive and over the next 10 years, our city plans to borrow $1.16 billion. We could hope for a bailout and more waivers from incoming Gov Ralph Northam but this type of Santa Claus wish list request has resulted in our current predicament.
Just nine miles west on Duke Street is a pipeline facility in Fairfax City. In 1992 (about the same time our City Council started ignoring our own environmental issues), Texaco and its partners paid $32 million in EPA costs and more than $200 million to settle with local residents for their products seeping into the ground and local water tables. If our river had been polluted for the past 28 years by a large multinational corporation instead of the deliberate inaction by our city leaders, we would be be suing for billions. While we can’t do that, we can hold our leaders accountable. We have a duty to protect our sacred natural resources — and protect Santa too!
Chair, Alexandria Republican City Committee