- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

It is illegal to discharge foam into the Potomac River, but eyewitnesses report a federal agency is discharging large amounts of root beer-colored foam from the Washington Aqueduct shores in addition to high sludge disposals that threaten fish populations.
The federal permit held by the Army Corps of Engineers allowing the sludge dumping says "there shall be no discharge of floating solids or visible foam in other than trace amounts."
The National Park Service Police noted the suds in a 1999 investigation of the discharges piped through the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park before it was dumped into the river. Fishers say the foam is coming from the Corps drainage pipes and "looks like a giant washing machine."
Thomas Jacobus, chief of the Washington Aqueduct, a division of the Baltimore District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says foam discharges would violate their permit and the law. However, Mr. Jacobus said the foam is naturally occurring in the river and is not coming from the discharge pipes. One pipe is located above the Chain Bridge, and two others below Fletcher's Boat House.
"We are not producing pillows of foam into the water — the fishermen and others are misinterpreting the cause-and-effect relationship" of the foam's origination, Mr. Jacobus said.
Mr. Jacobus said foam on the Potomac is caused by agitation of the river's natural flow, and compared it to foam caused by ocean waves crashing onto the shores and leaving froth, caused by agitation, on the beach.
"He's wrong," said Gordon Leisch, a retired biologist for the Interior Department's Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance, who has fished the affected waters for 30 years.
"Any biologist can distinguish from naturally occurring foam and what is coming out up there," Mr. Leisch said.
The biologist said there are three types of foam occurring on the Potomac: a white foam and green-white foam that occur naturally, and the "root beer"-colored foam he has witnessed on numerous occasions flowing from discharge pipes.
Mr. Leisch recorded the dumpings as they occurred and some details of the discharge characteristics in his fishing log.
He noted significant amounts of foam discharged this year, separate from the sludge dumpings, on Feb. 14, March 5, and April 23. Last year he recorded foam dumpings on Feb. 13 and 14, April 7 and 20 and May 24.
Sens. John W. Warner and George F. Allen, Virginia Republicans, are calling for Senate hearings to look into the sludge dumps, and Mr. Allen issued a "cease and desist" letter to the Environmental Protection Agency after the discharges were reported by The Washington Times.
The EPA allows the Corps to discharge chemically treated sediment, including alum, into the Potomac River under a permit that expired in 1994.
The Corps has been granted an extension while the federal government studies whether the dumpings are harmful to the river and fish, and looks into alternatives to sludge disposal.
Although Maryland technically owns the river and has one permit issued to the Corps controlling discharge water temperatures, en-forcement of the Clean Water Act as the river passes through Washington is the responsibility of the EPA.
The discharges contain 40,000 to 70,000 milligrams of suspended solids per liter, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.
Virginia is allowed to discharge fewer than 100 milligrams per liter of total suspended solids.
"This is outrageous," said Becky Norton Dunlop, who was Virginia's secretary of natural resources when Mr. Allen was governor from 1994 to 1998.
"The EPA was constantly hammering on Virginia to engage in activities that would result in less pollution in the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay, and the entire time they knew about this, which contributes more sediment … than probably all of Virginia's other sources," Mrs. Dunlop said.
Another critic of Clean Water Act enforcement is Roger Marzula, who served during the Reagan administration as assistant attorney general in charge of the environmental and natural resources division.
Mr. Marzula declined to comment on the specifics of this case, but he said it underscores the unfairness with which the EPA pursues or ignores Clean Water Act violations.
He cited a California case in which a man in his 70s was prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for discharging water mixed with apple juice into a stream.
Prosecutions, or lack thereof, are "tremendously arbitrary," Mr. Marzula said.
The sludge and foam discharges into the Potomac are also the target of a lawsuit by the National Wilderness Institute (NWI) against the Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The lawsuit charges that the sludge dumps are excessive and hurt aquatic wildlife and that the foam discharges are illegal.
Rob Gordon, executive director of the NWI, said foam discharges are illegal because of their effects on river aesthetics, and compared them to littering waterways with beer cans.
A U.S. Park Police officer has reported seeing foam from a pipe on Jan. 30, 1999, but an aqueduct representative said the foam was soap suds from a cleaning agent used after solids were flushed from the basin, documents show.
The police officer and Mr. Leisch also report a strong smell of chlorine during the discharges.
However, Mr. Jacobus told The Washington Times soap is not used to clean the basin, chlorine is not part of the treatment, and reiterated that foam is not being discharged.
"This is not Love Canal," Mr. Jacobus said. "This is water treatment putting a bit of alum back into the river."


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