ONE OF THE District’s largest environmental projects planned for coming decades is a system to prevent a noxious mixture of urban runoff and raw sewage from flowing into Rock Creek and the Anacostia and Potomac rivers every time there is a big storm. As The Post’s Darryl Fears reported last week, a legally binding agreement requires the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority to construct, at a cost of $2.6 billion, three huge tunnels into which this filthy water could be stored until treatment. But everyone in government seems to agree the city might be better served by a different approach: investing in “green infrastructure” that absorbs rainwater — things such as retention pools and grass rooftops. These have the potential not only to project local rivers but also to improve the city’s air quality and provide buildings with added insulation.
Why, then, did Christophe Tulou, who used to head the District Department of the Environment (DDOE), lose his job in the wrangling over the issue? Mr. Tulou says that he and his agency were cut out of the process as city officials, including Mayor Vincent C. Gray, considered a green infrastructure pilot program to test the feasibility of forgoing the tunnels project. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a key player in the cleanup effort, asked for thoughts from Mr. Tulou and his staff, he gave them. Green infrastructure could be great, he still maintains, but the city must make sure that a system of rain gardens and green roofs can function as well as the tunnels would; that it’s clear who would pay to maintain it all; and that the pilot project doesn’t delay the whole effort unnecessarily, possibly for many years.