|Resident Engineer James Wonneberg speaks to the Washington Post|
Wow! I have to give constant credit to our external affairs team at DC Water because they do such a fantastic job getting our message out to our customers and many stakeholders. The best recent example is the coverage we received for our deep tunneling project on the front page – above the fold as they say – of the Washington Post Sunday newspaper on February 16. Not only did we have coverage on A-1, all of A-8 and part of A-9, with informative and fascinating graphics to boot, but we had additional pictures and a video added online. Take a look!
Article: Meet Lady Bird, a massive machine digging out a solution to D.C. wastewater woes
Graphic: The dirty work under the District
Photo Gallery: Digging deep under the District
Blog Follow up: You asked for more about Lady Bird, we answered
The Lady Bird tunnel boring machine is part of the Clean Rivers Project – or the program dictated by a Consent Decree entered in the Federal Court to create a Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) to respond to a combination of rainfall and sewage that overflows to our Rivers during significant rainstorms. My great thanks to John Lisle and Pam Mooring in External Affairs, and of course our excellent Clean Rivers Team led by Leonard Benson and Carlton Ray.
|My Visit to Lady Bird with Carlton Ray and James Wonneberg|
The Post video adds helpful technical details to a similar video we have done of a visit I had made down into the tunnel. Just like Ashley Halsey III, the Post writer who visited Lady Bird, I was fascinated by the complexity, scale and importance of the tunneling work. We are hugely grateful to the Post for covering this story and absolutely believe the ultimate conclusion of this work will be a permanent improvement to the waterways of the District and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
This fascinating story does not stop here, but connects directly to another fascinating opportunity about the future of the District that is unfolding now. In short, while we plan to complete the tunnels to nearly eliminate combined sewer overflows to the Anacostia River, we are proposing an alternative to the tunneling plan for the second two phases of the project. Rather than build tunnels alone, we are proposing a green hybrid – a combination of tunnels and green infrastructure (GI) that can capture rainfall at the surface before it makes it to the tunnels in the first place. This new 12-minute video explains our plans:
Several critical issues need to be highlighted about our proposal.
1. Proposal. This hybrid idea is a proposal! We are on-time and on-budget to complete the tunneling projects contemplated by the Consent Decree. For those of you who don’t know, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) occur when pipes designed to carry both sewage and rainfall overflow into our waterways. This happens when there is too much rainfall entering the pipes from storm drains on the streets.
2. Summary. We will build the largest tunnels to nearly eliminate overflows to the Anacostia River. We seek to replace a short tunnel planned for the Piney Branch (part of Rock Creek) with $60 million of GI in the area where stormwater to the Piney Branch originates. We seek to replace the existing design of a larger tunnel along the Potomac River in Georgetown with a shorter tunnel, some separation of sewers and storm drains (to eliminate the combined flow) and $30 million of GI in the area that drains to the part of the Potomac tunnel we plan to eliminate. This is our hybrid plan – part tunnel, part GI, part sewer/stormwater separation.
3. Public Comment. This is a proposal that is subject to formal public comment. Anyone who would like to comment is encouraged to do so by March 14. Information about the proposal and how to comment is posted on our website at dcwater.com/green.
4. Green Infrastructure. GI refers to rebuilding the surface of the landscape that surrounds us to capture rainwater and use it as the valuable resource that it is – to help nurture a greening of the city in new tree boxes, vegetated boxes and bioswales, greenroofs and other amenities. All the rainwater that is captured to help green the city is less flow that must be accommodated in our underground pipes. Rather than capturing that overflow in deep underground tunnels that no one sees, we capture it in green amenities that make our city a more desirable place to live. I wrote a more detailed blog post in December that identifies questions that GI can answer (Top 10 Reasons to Implement Green Infrastructure and How Pittsburgh is Showing the Way).
5. Performance. The best modeling available about the performance of GI indicates that our hybrid approach will yield comparable environmental results to the all-tunnel plan. In fact, much of the benefit to GI will come on-line sooner. Obviously, a tunnel does not start doing its work until it is finished. And for the Rock Creek and Potomac, we are not planning to be finished until 2025. For GI, water quality improvements start as soon as a GI amenity is constructed, which will be as early as 2015. Then the benefits that derive are cumulative each year thereafter. The bottom line, though, is that our hybrid will deliver comparable benefits to the tunnels on water quality indices narrowly defined. We seek the GI alternative, though, because we know there are so many other benefits that GI offers to energy use, climate, quality of life and job creation. To us, a dollar spent on GI delivers far better results for Washington, DC and the region.
6. Timing – Part 1. To date, we have only accelerated our work under the Consent Decree. We are on-time and on-budget for the largest pieces of the work – which are the tunnels for the Anacostia River. We have accelerated two huge components of that project – building a $140 million tunnel along First Street in NW to reduce flooding in Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park almost 10 years earlier than planned, and then moving forward the entire $600 million Northeast Boundary Tunnel – the portion of the CSO plan that will nearly eliminate the threat of flooding in the central part of the city – by 3 years. Plus we are funding and building $2.9 million of GI in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, and have funding an immediate plan to capture rainwater in one sand filter at the old McMillan water treatment facility. Our record and credibility on undertaking the work required of us is absolutely clear.
7. Timing – Part 2. We are seeking a 7-year extension to complete the hybrid project – to be completed with everything by 2032. We need the additional time because doing GI is actually much more complicated to plan and execute. Rather than working out of sight and out of mind deep under the ground, we will be rebuilding city streets to manage stormwater. This work will benefit the city many times over, but by necessity will cause disruption at the street level while the work is being done. Only a certain amount of street work can be undertaken at one time until the amount of temporary loss of parking spaces and turn lanes make neighborhoods impassable. We seek the extension to plan out the GI work over time, and the tunnel along the Potomac, so that the community can handle the actual work.
8. Price. The total cost of our Clean Rivers project will remain essentially unchanged, although extended out over seven more years. We are not proposing the GI hybrid to save money – although the extension of work will be helpful to manage the rate increases that our customers face to pay for this extraordinary scale of work. We project rate increases for at least the next 20 years, in large measure to pay for the size and scale of the Clean Rivers project. An additional 7 years to complete the project will allow us to manage rate increases more moderately over a longer period, particularly in the 2020’s. We are greatly concerned about the affordability of this project, particularly when added to the vast range of additional capital projects necessary to deliver clean water in the Washington, DC region, for our low and fixed income customers. While this proposal does not eliminate the challenge to this segment of our ratepayers, it helps. Some of our analysis on the consequence to our ratepayers is included in our Proposed Modification to the Long Term Control Plan (Appendix E, page 211).
9. District Team. We will not succeed at GI without a close collaboration with the District government. Most of the work will be done in the public space controlled by the District Department of Transportation, and we will have to work closely with the Office of Planning, Department of Public Works and a host of other agencies. The good news is that Mayor Gray is a strong proponent, and his able City Administrator (and our Board Chair!) has convened a cross-cutting team to make sure we can deliver on what we promise. This is not just a DC Water proposal, it is a proposal by the entire City about its future! Mayor Gray reiterated his support in a letter on January 31, 2014.
10. Jobs. Last but certainly not least, the jobs component of the GI project is one of its best attributes. Deep tunneling work does create jobs – although the “sand hogs” who do this work are fairly specialized, and tend to travel from place to place to do it. GI is work rebuilding streets, planting trees, constructing green shrubbery boxes and bioswales – work that is more accessible for folks who need jobs and can be trained to do it. We hope to have the challenge of building an associated job-training course with local providers to identify candidates to do this GI work, generating good, long-term jobs that are meaningful to water quality and the city. Once GI is constructed it must be maintained – many of these jobs will be permanent!
I could go on even longer about how excited the DC Water team is about the prospects of GI – but that would make this GI post, already the longest I have written, even more of a challenge for the reader. So I will conclude here and dearly hope that many folks will comment on our proposal and support this direction. Ultimately, we will only be able to implement our GI hybrid proposal if it is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice. Our federal partners need to hear from you!