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DC Water Supports Current Water Quality Standards

Large bird on the Anacostia River
February 21, 2018

In a recent letter to the District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), the DC Environmental Network and other environmental groups suggest that DC Water is proposing to weaken water quality standards, in DC Water’s comments on DOEE’s proposed rulemaking regarding the standards.  This suggestion is not accurate. Every 3 years, DOEE is required to conduct a review to determine whether changes to the District’s water quality standards are needed.  As part of this most recent triennial process, DOEE has proposed new, more stringent E. coli Statistical Threshold Value criteria be added to portions of the regulations that promote primary contact recreational uses. District regulations require that DOEE conduct a socio-economic impact analysis to determine the impacts of the proposed changes before it decides whether to adopt or modify the proposed regulations. 

DC Water’s comments urge DOEE to use its discretionary authority to investigate whether the costs necessary to comply with the proposed regulation will be commensurate with the anticipated benefits before it adopts the proposed standards. The comments provide DOEE information to consider as it takes the next step in its regulatory process.

DC Water’s comments also urge that DOEE defer adoption of the new proposed regulation until a Use Attainability Analysis (UAA) has been completed.  The UAA will provide the factual support for changes in the E. coli criteria by ensuring that the new criteria are applied and enforced in a way that is affordable, cost-effective and necessary to protect existing and potential recreational uses of the District’s waters during reasonable times and conditions.  As an example, a UAA will assess whether it is reasonable to provide for recreational use of the river during extreme weather events such as hurricanes and floods.

These issues have been raised by DC Water because rate increases required to fund the existing Clean Rivers Project to meet existing water quality standards are imposing well-publicized hardships on significant segments of the District’s residents.  You can read our complete comments online: DC Water's Comments on Proposed Rulemaking

To date, DC ratepayers have invested more than $1.4 billion dollars in the Clean Rivers Project, which is constructing a seven-mile long tunnel from the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant to RFK Stadium to capture and treat combined sewer overflows (CSOs) during heavy rain events.  The first phase of the Anacostia River tunnel will go into service on March 23, 2018. The remainder of the project, which includes additional tunnels and green infrastructure, will be constructed in the coming years between now and 2030, with a total project cost of about $2.7 billion dollars. 

The Clean Rivers Project is expected to reduce overall CSOs discharges to the Potomac and Anacostia rivers by 96%, one of highest capture rates in the nation. Most importantly, the US EPA and DOEE have determined that, when complete, the Clean Rivers Project will meet District water quality standards. DC Water is not advocating that the water quality standards upon which this massive project are based be lowered for affordability reasons. It is urging that the deliberate, data driven, regulatory processes demanded by local law and authorized by the Clean Water Act be used to adjust those standards. We will strive to strike a tone of collaboration as that process proceeds.