Low-Impact Development at DC Water

Across the country, cities are facing the challenges and opportunities posed by green practices: sustainable land use and development, improvement of climate effects, stormwater management, river restoration and the wise use of water. The District, like other cities, faces meeting environmental challenges with finite resources.

Under the terms of a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent decree, DC Water has begun the implementation phase of the Clean Rivers Project - constructing a massive tunnel system to control combined sewer overflows to the Anacostia River. These overflows, which discharge up to 2.5 billion gallons of diluted sewage to the Anacostia annually, will be reduced by 98 percent. The later phases of this long-term control plan include construction of similar tunnels in the Potomac River and Rock Creek sewersheds.

As we embark on the next phases of the Clean Rivers Project, the time is right to consider the potential impact of an expanded green infrastructure investment. The current consent decree requires a review of Low-Impact Development (LID) technologies to capture stormwater before it enters the system. The benefits of an LID-intensive plan go far beyond stormwater management. The positive implications include job creation, improved air quality, greener public and private spaces, and added wildlife habitat. DC Water plans to use this requirement as an opportunity to explore a widespread installation of LIDs to the fullest extent possible.

However, there are a number of challenges in putting into action an intensive LID program. We recognize the huge benefit of LID to the District. At the same time, DC Water must balance its environmental responsibility and commitment to improved water quality with an answerable use of ratepayer funds.

Photo Courtesy of DDOE
Photo Courtesy of DDOE

DC Water hosted an LID Summit March 14, 2011 at George Washington University, which was well-attended by government officials and stakeholders. Since then, DC Water has been in continuous discussions with US EPA and Department of Justice (DOJ) and presented a draft plan that illustrates a full-scale demonstration to incorporate a pilot of LID approaches while still requiring the same high level of performance. On February 29, 2012, we held our follow-up meeting to keep all stakeholders abreast of our progress. The event was well attended, and interest and support have increased from the initial meeting.

On December 10, 2012, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, US EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin and DC Water General Manager George Hawkins signed the "Clean Rivers, Green District" Partnership Agreement (PDF) that outlines a pilot green infrastructure program and also the process by which the consent decree is reviewed. This includes a public outreach component and a public comment period, beginning in early 2013.