Potomac River areas smell relief
Six filtration buildings, three in Montgomery, planned for sewer line
As summer months approach, residents of Potomac River communities are dreading the inevitable consequence of the warm weather the stink from the Potomac Interceptor sewer line.
But for those suffering from the stench, relief is on the way. After a 10-year push by advocates, ground will break in April on carbon filtration buildings that will filter odorous hydrogen sulfide from the sewer line, which spans 50 miles and transmits an average of 65 million gallons of wastewater a day. The sewer runs from the Washington Dulles International Airport north to the Potomac River, and along the river down to the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in the District.
The line dates back to 1960 and was constructed with vents that release the hydrogen sulfide, a gas that can corrode the inside of the pipe and the culprit for the foul smell. The stench affects Montgomery, the District and Loudoun and Fairfax counties, and has long annoyed visitors to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, which operates the sewer, began an odor abatement program in 1999. The Potomac Conservancy and other groups filed suit against WASA in 2004 in an attempt to pressure WASA to speed up those plans, but were unsuccessful. Gaining building permits from multiple jurisdictions, including the National Park Service, has been part of the reason for the delay, WASA has said.
"This has been a journey," said Barry Lucas, a WASA program manager, at a March 22 meeting on the project's progress.
Six filtration buildings are planned. Construction on one in the District and two in Montgomery near Old Angler's Inn and along the C&O Canal near the Capital Beltway will begin in April. In June, work will launch on the third Montgomery site, at the Little Falls Substation along the Clara Barton Parkway in Bethesda.
The project should eliminate the stench along the sewer. In addition, the filtration building planned for Old Angler's Inn will also house restroom facilities for the public.
The $9.7 million contract for the four sites was awarded to Corinthian Contractors of Arlington. Alongside the construction of the buildings some of which will be evocative of lockhouses to fit in with the historic setting along the canal workers will seal vents that release the gas, Lucas said. A construction contract is expected to be awarded in July for two units in Virginia.
"It seems to me as if we are at the beginning of the end of this project, which is reassuring," said Burr Gray, who heads the Cabin John Citizens Association, one of the groups that have long advocated for relief from the stench.
Gray said his group and others that represent riverside communities renewed the push on the project about two and a half years ago when it appeared the project had stalled. The project, he said, was an important one both for communities along the canal and for visitors to the C&O Canal Park.
"It's a great day," Gray said. "But we still want to see that first shovel full of dirt."