- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Real estate development along the Anacostia waterfront is creating concern among local politicians about whether the District’s sewers can handle the expected influx of thousands of new workers, residents and consumers.

“As we introduce more intensive economic development along the Anacostia, we have to be more mindful of the runoff,” D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and member of the council’s committee on health, said this week. “The Anacostia is one of the dirtiest rivers in the Mid-Atlantic.”

He said the District lacks a complete sewer system in which all sewage is treated before it is dumped into the area’s rivers.

“Many of our sewers don’t lead to a treatment facility but lead right to the rivers, and that’s the problem,” Mr. Graham said.

Federal funding for sewer upgrades is “sorely needed,” he said.

However, officials from the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) say the 150-year-old system is adequate to avoid dumping more untreated sewage into the Anacostia River.

“The system was built and designed to do just what it is doing,” WASA General Manager Jerry Johnson said.

WASA is in the midst of a 20-year “Long Term Control Plan” that includes adding 100-foot-deep storage tunnels that will be used exclusively to handle storm water.

Currently, many of the sewers in the oldest parts of Washington carry both storm water and sewage that overflow during torrential rains. The combined flows also make treating the sewage more difficult.

When the $1.26 billion project is completed, about 96 percent of the city’s sewage will be treated before being released into rivers, WASA officials said.

In the past two years, the amount of treated sewage and waste water has increased 24 percent as a result of upgrades to the system, Mr. Johnson said. It will take another 20 years to reach the 96 percent goal, he said.

Although the sewer system overflows about 60 times each year, it is in no danger of catastrophic failure from real estate development along the Anacostia waterfront, Mr. Johnson said.

New developments along the waterfront include a Department of Transportation headquarters, the new baseball stadium and plans for a new Coast Guard headquarters on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital.

The federal government already has renovated the nearby Navy Yard and moved 10,000 federal employees to facilities there.

The General Services Administration is scheduled to announce more details of its development plans at the 55-acre Southeast Federal Center within weeks.

Private-sector development includes participation in the new baseball stadium as well as housing and office complexes.

District officials say that, as the area’s largest landowner, the federal government should pay for improvements to the sewer system.

“It’s a huge amount of money that’s going to be needed to upgrade the sewer system,” said Sharon Gang, spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “This sewer upgrade isn’t going to happen in one year or two years. It’s a long-term project.”

Last week, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s non-voting congressional representative, wrote a letter to House leaders asking for an additional $150 million in fiscal 2006 to resolve pollution problems caused by the sewer system.

“This amount is more than reasonable given the scope of the problem, the federal government’s major use of the system and its responsibility for the construction flaws in the sewer system built by the Army Corps of Engineers,” Mrs. Norton said.

She said the Anacostia waterfront development increases the need for sewer-system improvements.

Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairwoman of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, said, “I think if we neglect the system, there could be reasons for alarm in the future.”

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