On Wednesday, May 8, the executive leadership from the four largest local jurisdictions gathered at the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (MWCOG) to celebrate a watershed moment – pun intended – in regional cooperation: the signing of the Intermunicipal Agreement (IMA) for the operation of the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The parties to the agreement include the District of Columbia, DC Water, Fairfax County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC).
COG board member Penelope Gross said, “I think this is the closest thing we’ve had to Middle East peace in the region.” She was joking, but there is some truth to that; getting all of the signatories to agree to the details of the new IMA – to update the existing agreement from 1985 – has been an arduous, decade-long process with lengthy, complicated negotiations.
But the document that emerged from that process will govern the collection and treatment of wastewater at Blue Plains for the next 99 years, with the participating jurisdictions sharing the annual capital and operating costs of $822 million. As the COG announcement put it, “The pact ensures service for 2 million area residents and 18 million annual visitors, cleaner rivers and a healthier Chesapeake Bay, and also supports regional growth and development for the next 40 years.”
So, there is a lot to celebrate, not the least of which is the collaborative spirit that pushed the agreement across the goal line. In the end, I think there several things that made the difference between success and failure. First, the parties realized there are real economies of scale and savings that come from collectively supporting 1 large facility rather than many smaller ones. Blue Plains provides 43 percent of the wastewater capacity for the region and does it at close to half the cost compared to the national average. That saves everyone money including our rate payers.
Second, the agreement was developed using a very data driven approach that allows us to equitably divide up the capital and operating costs so every jurisdiction pays their fair share.
And lastly, we have a Board of Directors that doesn’t operate along strict jurisdictional lines. It is a regional body and makes decisions based on what’s best for the region as a whole, and that is why the Intermunicipal Agreement (IMA) is done and we’re now focused on implementation.
While all this might not sound exciting enough to make the evening news, it did, generating some great coverage on local television (below) and in the Washington Post: Blue Plains sewage pact is a rare success of cooperation in the D.C. region.