I described it as an aroma, which drew some chuckles from folks familiar with the noxious odor that sometimes invaded the C&O Canal. But on a recent day, under very pleasant conditions, we gathered near Fletcher’s Boathouse and took a long, deep breath to celebrate a successful project to bring clean air back to this popular National Park. I mostly smelled the sweet scent of nearby honeysuckle.
The offending smell emanated from vents along the Potomac Interceptor (PI), a very large 50-mile long sewer built in the 1960s by the Federal government to connect Washington Dulles International Airport and several suburban jurisdictions to the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. The vents allowed gases to the open air above and were part of the original design to aid in the gravity flow and to keep sewer gases from corroding the pipes. In short, the vents released sewer gases that smelled and that in turn led to complaints and ultimately even lawsuits.
This was no easy fix. Resolving the issue took more than 15 years, cost millions and required more than 40 permits from two dozen agencies.
|Odor Scrubbing Facility at Fletcher’s Boathouse|
Now, finally, we can close those vents, thanks to the construction of 6 “odor-scrubbing” buildings along the PI. The DC site opened June 4 (Sewer Gas Scrubbers Reduce Odors Along C&O Canal, Georgetown Patch), three Maryland facilities will be completed soon and construction will start later this summer on two buildings on the Virginia side of the River.
The facilities “scrub” the odors by venting the gases through large amounts of carbon. What’s left does not offend the nostrils of the thousands of visitors who stroll and bike along the Canal. Plus, the new building at Fletcher’s includes an added amenity, public restrooms.
I’d like to thank our engineers who put a lot of hard work into analyzing different solutions to deal with the odor issue; David Lake, DC Water Board member and Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection Special Assistant, for his support of the project; the National Park Service and Superintendent Kevin Brandt for partnering with us; and the community leaders who pushed and collaborated with us to make the great outdoors once again smell like the great outdoors.
Three highlights from this group:
1. I am reminded of the importance of the perseverance and diligence of local community groups. Groups that have organized to preserve the park, improve neighborhoods, protect the environment – all held DC Water and other government agencies to account for the need, planning and ultimately the execution of this project. This effort took diligent effort over more than a decade, and to me, is community commitment and action at its best.
2. I am also reminded of the truism that infrastructure spurs economic growth. I wonder how much economic activity in the corridor leading out to Dulles, and surrounding the Beltway in the vicinity of the PI, has been enabled by this enormous sewer line. Although we do not often tabulate it in this fashion, we can take significant responsibility for much of the activity that has defined the economic growth in the last many decades.
3. DC Water partnered very successfully with the National Park Service to make this happen. I have often noted that the NPS is very careful because it is making decisions for posterity. That is true in this case, and I am delighted that we have provided posterity such a better outcome than what had come before. I tip my hat to our friends in the NPS!
Finally, I am again honored and pleased to work beside the professionals at DC Water. The skill and patience it took to deliver (and we are not done yet) is just another day at the office for our folks on Team Blue!