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NOTICe Page 2

Cleaning up the Potomac
by Erik D. Olson

Alexandria recently unveiled details for “RiverRenew,” a massive new project to clean up the city’s combined sewer overflows.  The plan will capture 96 percent of these current discharges into the Potomac and local waterways. 

Combined sewer overflows occur more than 60 times per year during storms in Alexandria, when raw sewage from homes and businesses in Old Town mixes with storm water, overloading our wastewater treatment plant.  This forces the discharge of the sewage into the Potomac and other local streams.

The RiverRenew project could have big implications for Oronoco Bay Park.  The good news is that it would substantially reduce sewage discharges from “outfall 001” located at the park’s southern tip — reducing the number of overflow events there from about 37 per year to two.

However, under one option, the park could be the staging ground for construction for several years, and then could serve as the location of some of the above-ground and underground infrastructure after project completion.  An alternative option, favored by many local residents, would use the abandoned warehouses at Robinson Terminal North (just south of the park) as a staging ground and for the infrastructure.

The new project, projected to cost between $350 million and $550 million dollars, and slated for completion by 2025, was reviewed at a community listening session on September 17, 2018.


  It would bore a two-mile-long tunnel about 100 feet below the surface to capture combined sewage after storms and store it until the upgraded wastewater treatment plant is able to treat it.

Another major question is whether this tunnel should be bored under the Potomac along the city shoreline, or farther west under Union Street or Lee Street, and whether it should be located at the south end of Old Town under Green Street or under Church Street. 

There are 422 structures including 84 historic buildings in the so-called “buffer zone” above the Lee Street-Green Street option, whereas there are only 58 structures and 4 historic buildings in the buffer zone above the Potomac River-Church Street option. 

Many Old Town residents at the community listening session voiced support for the River-Church Street option as being less likely to be disruptive to the community.

Click here for details (PDF), and click here to post a public comment.  Comments are due by October 25, 2018.

NOTICe, which served on an advisory panel for planning the project, likely will be filing comments on the proposal.


NOTICe Delivers Presentation on Green Infrastructure
to Combined Sewer System Stakeholder Group

On January 10, 2018, NOTICe delivered a presentation on Clean and Affordable Water in Alexandria to the City of Alexandria's Ad Hoc Combined Sewer System (CSS) Stakeholder Group, which is assisting city planners in updating Alexandria's Long Term Control Plan to address recently-imposed administrative and legislative mandates requiring the city to resolve shortcomings in its combined sewer system.  NOTICe's presentation focused on the benefits of public and private green infrastructure projects.



NOTICe Presentation



City Response


CSS Stakeholder Group Submits Recommendations to City

The CSS Stakeholder Group, which met six times between October 2017 and March 2018 to review and monitor the preparation of the City of Alexandria's Long Term Control Plan Update to meet the mandates of Virginia's 2017 Combined Sewer Overflow Law, submitted its formal recommendations to the Alexandria City Council and City Manager in a memo dated April 6, 2018. 

The group supported an alternative referred to as Option B+ that includes a "unified tunnel with dual-use wet weather treatment."


CSS Stakeholder Memo



Click on any of the images above or at left, or on one of the following links to download the PDF versions of the NOTICe Presentation (20 pages), the City's Response (2 pages) and the Combined Sewer System Stakeholder Group's April 6, 2018 Memo (11 pages).


Background on Alexandria's Sewer Systems

The City of Alexandria operates two separate sewer systems – an older legacy system and a newer more efficient system.

The older system, dating back to the early 1800s, is a combined sewer that carries both waste water from homes and businesses as well as storm water runoff from streets, sidewalks, roofs and parking lots in a single pipe system to Alexandria Renew Enterprises’ water treatment facility, which is located between Eisenhower Avenue and the Capital Beltway to the immediate west of Four Mile Run (near the Whole Foods on Duke Street).  The combined sewer predominantly serves the historic neighborhoods of Old Town, including Old Town North.

The newer system is a dual pipe system in which one pipe carries waste water to the Alexandria Renew facility for treatment, and another pipe carries storm water runoff to local waterways with little or no treatment.  This sewer serves recently redeveloped areas of Old Town (within the last 20 years or so) and areas of Alexandria that lie well outside of the historic district.  The more recent developments in North Old Town are all on the newer dedicated sewer, as they are not allowed on the older system.

Alexandria Renew operates a state-of-the-art facility that uses filters and bacterial agents rather than chemicals to treat the waste water.  Processing removes trash, grit, sediment, oils, grease, nitrogen, phosphorus and pathogens from the water.  After treatment, the reclaimed clean water is released into Hunting Creek, which flows into the Potomac River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

Administrative Mandate

When heavy rain falls on our city (about 60-70 times in an average year), the combined sewer is easily overwhelmed by the increased water volume (90 percent storm water and 10 percent raw sewage) flowing through the pipes to the water treatment facility.  Because the water treatment facility is unable to process large amounts of storm water, much of it is diverted untreated into local waterways through four sewer outfalls.

One outfall sends effluent directly into Oronoco Bay near the foot of Pendleton Street, and the other three outfalls dump the overflow into Hunting Creek or its tributary Hooff’s Run.


Old Town North Small Area Plan

The City of Alexandria has completed its work on a new small area plan for Old Town North.  Please click here to see the approved plan.


Alexandria Police Crime-Prevention Tips

The Alexandria Police Department created a 4-page color flyer with common-sense crime prevention tips, and they asked NOTICe to help distribute the flyer to residents of North Old Town.


Untreated nitrogen and phosphorus can produce algae blooms in local watersheds, which create “dead zones” that starve aquatic life of oxygen.  Untreated pathogens can lead to infections, disease and undesirable mutations.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) strictly limits the amount of untreated water that can be released into state-controlled waterways and their tributaries, and requires local governments like Alexandria to develop a long-term plan for limiting and mitigating such releases.  VDEQ is requiring Alexandria to reduce the amount of untreated effluent that it releases during heavy rain storms from the three outfalls feeding into the smaller waterways. 

Legislative Mandate

On February 25, 2017, the final day of its 2017 regular legislative session, the Virginia General Assembly required Alexandria to start construction to upgrade all four of its sewer outfalls by 2023, and complete those upgrades by 2025 (SB 898).  The legislature previously threatened to cut-off all state funding to the city if it did not complete the repairs by 2020. 

In late March 2017, then Governor Terry McAuliffe attempted unsuccessfully to get the General Assembly to push the deadline back to 2027, but the legislature rejected the Governor's recommended modification in early April 2017 and the Governor eventually signed the bill into law on April 26, 2017.

The city hopes the state will pay for some of the $400 million in projected costs to complete the required work, but many of the Republican legislators who control the General Assembly have publicly stated that Democrat-dominated Alexandria is affluent enough to pay for the work on its own.  Meanwhile, Alexandria is proposing to raise the city sanitary sewer fee in the years ahead to pay for the mandated sewer upgrades.

City Proposal

City leaders are proposing to construct a 3-million gallon storage tank and 10-foot diameter tunnels under the entire length of North Royal Street that would temporarily hold the excess effluent that is today discharged into Oronoco Bay, Hunting Creek and Hooff’s Run until the treatment plant is able to process it in the ordinary course.

The obvious alternative, moving older buildings to the newer sewer system, is not practical as the cost would be exorbitant for both the city and individual property owners, and such a project would entail tearing up the streets and sidewalks of Old Town to lay new pipes and connectors.  The city believes that its plan will reduce the number of outflows to a few per year.

In late November 2016, the City Council announced that the projected cost to address this problem would be $338 million.  In the city's proposed budget for FY 2018, which began on July 1, 2017, the expected cost rose to $400 million.  By way of comparison, in ordinary years, the city's annual capital budget is about $120-$150 million.

Green Infrastructure

The new storage tanks and tunnels will not eliminate all releases of untreated effluent during heavy rainstorms.  Accordingly, the city is taking complementary measures to divert storm water runoff away from the combined sewer system altogether.  These initiatives, first developed under the city's 2016 Green Infrastructure Strategy, seek to reduce "stormwater runoff volumes, peak flows, and/or pollutant loads" at the source, utilizing "infiltration, evapotranspiration, and capture" in combination with steps to reduce overflows from the combined sewer system.  The simplest of these measures would create new or expanded planted areas — biogardens — to increase the retention and absorption of rain water.

The emphasis on green infrastructure is consistent with community feedback received by the Old Town North Small Area Plan Advisory Group that vigorously supports more green projects in North Old Town in coming years.  As part of its city-wide green infrastructure initiative, the Alexandria Department of Project Implementation "is planning to construct a Green Infrastructure Demonstration Project along Second Street between North Pitt and North Royal Streets.  The project will reduce the existing paved area and will create green space for trees and a series of bioretention facilities."  This project is currently in advanced planning stages and is scheduled to break ground in the spring of 2018 and be completed later this year.


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