The pipes will form a tunnel that will run 50 feet below Metro’s Navy Yard station in Southeast. It will cost $2.6 billion, paid for in large part by a major rate increase to home and business owners.
When the Anacostia tunnel of the Clean Rivers project is finished in 2025, it will snake 13.1 miles north to Rhode Island Avenue NE and capture 98 percent of storm water, which can slowly be pumped into Blue Plains and treated.
But the tunnel isn’t the only remedy DC Water has in mind. Even as workers dig at Blue Plains in Southwest and another area near RFK Stadium, DC Water officials talked to representatives of Region III of the Environmental Protection Agency last week about another ambitious undertaking that could transform the appearance of several District communities and dramatically change how the city manages storm-water runoff.
DC Water’s general manager, George Hawkins, asked the EPA’s permission to spend $10 million to place grass on rooftops, put flower gardens at curbsides, and lay sidewalks made of porous stone along the Potomac River leading into Georgetown and neighborhoods in the Piney Branch area.
Several cities moved forward with major green projects some time ago. An aerial view of a neighborhood in Philadelphia, for example, shows carpets of green across building tops, and in Portland, water authority officials claim that street planters, rain gardens and permeable pavement soaked up 60 percent of storm-water runoff.
A green project could reduce the cost of the Clean Rivers project, which also calls for building a pair of tunnels near the areas where officials envision the green makeover.
Hawkins has staked part of his legacy on creating a green project that works. “This is one of the reasons I was hired. I’m probably pushing it more than anyone else. It was one of the things I presented when I was being interviewed for this job,” Hawkins said.
The solution holds appeal for environmentalists, but some want to see proof of the green solution’s effectiveness. Last year alone, more than a billion gallons of wastewater gushed into the Anacostia River. It is among the dirtiest rivers in the nation, and every inch of the Potomac River that runs through the city is “impaired,” according to EPA criteria.
“It’s pretty disgusting,” said Rebecca Hammer, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s no question that that needs to stop, one way or the other.”
Hammer said “green” water management techniques must prove as successful as “gray” cement pipes to gain acceptance. “Assuming they can stop the same number of sewer overflows, we would be very supportive,” she said.