Greener is Better – DC Water’s Updated Consent Decree

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On May 20, 2015 I was joined by our partners at the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Mayor of the District of Columbia to announce the completion of the process to modify DC Water’s Long Term Control Plan to enable a significant investment in green infrastructure.

Under the terms of a 2005 consent decree, DC Water is implementing the $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project. The first phase of the project is underway and involves constructing a massive underground tunnel system to control combined sewer overflows to the Anacostia River. These overflows, which currently discharge about 1.3 billion gallons of diluted sewage to the Anacostia in an average year, will be reduced by 98 percent when the tunnel system is completed in 2022. The later phases of this plan included construction of similar tunnels to control overflows into the Potomac River and Rock Creek.

Exploring green infrastructure to reduce combined sewer overflows to the Potomac River and Rock Creek was a personal priority for me when I accepted the position of General Manager at DC Water in 2009. Since then, DC Water has invested $14 million in ratepayer funds to further our understanding of this innovative solution to stormwater control that will bring environmental, social, and economic benefits to the residents of the District of Columbia. Some argue about the role of green infrastructure in comparison to grey.  We have learned over this process that embracing both techniques in a complementary manner builds on their relative strengths and yields an outcome that is better than either alone. 

Updating our consent decree has been no easy feat, but I am confident the effort was well spent. The new plan will green 498 acres of currently impervious surface, create an additional 200 jobs, bring water quality benefits in some areas 12 years sooner than under the original plan, reduce construction disruption and help ease the burden of annual rate increases on residents responsible for funding this massive infrastructure investment. Overall, our new plan brings us in line with the latest clean water innovations while ultimately reducing combined sewer overflows at a rate that is equivalent to our original tunnel-only plan.

A unique element of our plan is an agreement with the Government of the District of Columbia to direct the jobs created by green infrastructure to DC residents. DC Water will establish a comprehensive program that will establish certification standards for green infrastructure construction, inspection and maintenance jobs. After the certification standards are established, DC Water will fund third parties to train and place District residents in the newly created green jobs. DC Water has an eventual goal of filling at least 51% of these new jobs with DC residents. We will also engage professional service firms and contractors based in the District to perform work associated with green infrastructure.

The modified consent decree that was released this week is a product of methodical outreach and collaboration with our regulatory, environmental, and community stakeholders. DC Water solicited feedback on its plans for green infrastructure by holding multiple summits, more than 14 public meetings, and notifying District residents through a proactive ad campaign. The updated proposal reflects the nearly 500 comments we received from the public, and I am confident will position DC Water as a leader in the responsible use of green infrastructure for combined sewer overflows.  

For more information on our plan, visit www.dcwater.com/green

 

George S. Hawkins is CEO and General Manager of DC Water, an industry leading multi-jurisdictional utility that provides drinking water and wastewater treatment to the District of Columbia. DC Water also provides wastewater collection and treatment for 1.6 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, and Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia.

 

 

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