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05 January 2015

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Bill H

San Diego has a similar problem with the bottom of San Diego Bay, which is home to the largest US Navy base in the country and to several shipyards building ships and doing major ship repair for the US Navy. There are periodic calls for a major cleanup of the toxic sludge which lies on the bottom of the bay, costing around $500 million, but there is never agreement on who is going to pay for it and the topic dies away.

shege

There's no doubt DC government has not addressed this issue. Neither has Maryland, or the Pentagon. Or Congress, which controls the purse strings of the DC government. To the point of interfering in ordinary governance, such as the legalization of marijuana.

Perhaps some ire should be directed at them as well?

turcopolier

shege

Certainly. pl

BabelFish

I had the pleasure of meeting Ian McHarg while in college. Ian was one of the pioneers of the environmental movement. He started off his discussion by stating that one of the unwritten credos of western civilization was 'thou shall pee in thy neighbors waters'.

The power of nature to heal itself is sometimes beyond reckoning. My hometown pumped raw sewage, mill effluent and leakage from our town dump into the Mousam River, which empties into the Atlantic at Kennebunk, Maine, not far away from the Bush summer compound. Fast forward to now and people are catching salmon and stripers in the same river. It started with a modern sewage system in the 60s. Some bundle of entities just has to care enough to get started.

Lee

When the gov't and citizens have the choice between immediate reward, income, tax revenue, jobs or some downstream benefit for little fishes and recreational boaters it's pretty clear the fishes lose. Good luck on this one but it'll take a multistate effort and close to ten billion to address what empties into the Chesapeake.

turcopolier

Lee

Given the level of devotion to the commonweal demonstrated in Alexandria, I do not think we, here, deserve that criticism. PL

turcopolier

Babelfish

Yes, I remember. The Mousam below Sanford was an open sewer in the '60s. pl

sglover

I've done a fair number of dives in the Potomac with an amateur marine archaeology group. Pristine it ain't. It's like diving in coffee. Nine times out of ten the only way to read your gauges is to illuminate them with a dive light (they're phosphorescent), and hold them up against your mask. But we know that there's a lot of fishing going on, because we run into discarded monofilament and big vicious lures all the time...

The upper Anacostia is slowly improving. I see herons and osprey there pretty often.

The Bay and its tributaries were clear water when the first Europeans settled. Bad as the Navy Yard and relic sewage systems may be, at least they're (almost) point sources. But there must be something like 10 million people in the Chesapeake watershed, nearly all of them using it as a dumping ground one way or another. 500 million dollars actually sounds pretty cheap, if it can make a noticeable dent in that problem.

And yeah, it's appalling that we've managed to piss away more than 2000 Anacostia cleanups in our glorious Mesopotamian adventures.

William R. Cumming

Perhaps sending a flag rank to jail time for environmental contamination would heighten attention.

BTW estimates exist that current contamination alone would cost $1T to remediate in the so-called nuclear bomb complex. This is controlled by DoE!

BabelFish

Pat, when I would walk to school, there were days it was blue, then another day orange or yellow. It depended on what color of dye they were using in some of the mills.

turcopolier

sglover

I, too, am a diver. As you know fresh water bodies are normally murkier than the sea. pl

Abu Sinan

I lived in Alexandria for some time, but we recently bought a new place in Falls Church. I really like Alexandria and they certainly do their best to take care of their town.

Lee

Pat, my observation isn't specific to you or Virginia but humans in general and there are many of them in the Chesapeake watershed. Ten to fifteen yrs ago I led people on kayak tours, taught sea kayaking and was in the Bay water too much. Between Pfisteria piscida, algae blooms and paddling through foot ball sized dead zones with cancerous dead fish every ten feet I see the problem being much bigger than the Anacostia and Potomac. The things we humans value by where and how we live have significant downstream costs that will take coordination across state lines and I just don't think folks upstream really want to spend money on this. Your comments about a chickenhawk nation are somewhat applicable on an environmental level. It's not like the trillion dollar economy surrounding DC and the millions of people up stream really need the Bay and it's rivers to live.

turcopolier

Lee

that does not make the Anacostia watershed a less worthy place to clean up. pl

nick b

I thought the WaPo article was quite positive. The trend is definitely moving in the direction of reclamation and clean up. Still, looking at the problem as primarily a DC issue won't solve it. It's a watershed issue.

The bulk of the current pollution into the Anacostia and the Chesapeake Bay in general is the result of combined sewage overflows (CSO). Essentially, when it rains, the current sewage/storm drain systems in PG and Montgomery Counties in Maryland as well as the District can't handle the extra flow. As a result, surface trash, street drain/paved surface runoff water full of oil and fertilizers, and raw sewage flow unrestricted into the Anacostia watershed and eventually downstream to the Bay. (This isn't unique to the Anacostia river watershed. It happens all around the Bay, even Alexandria has CSO into the Hunting Creek flowing into the Potomac.) The problem is exacerbated by the heavy population density of the watershed area and the loss of wetlands and riparian boundaries from decades of development.

In general, corrective action for the overflows is usually the result of an enforcement action by the EPA, rather than the various political jurisdictions doing it of their own free will. Which in many ways is understandable. Remediation is both expensive and disruptive (think of lots of closed roads during construction). Thus far, the EPA has focused on larger cities, like DC and Philadelphia, for this sort of enforcement. But eventually they will make their way around to everyone. It's just a matter of time. This is nothing new, and County Seats and City Halls all over the country are, or will be dealing with it.

As for the toxic sediment in the Anacostia River, as the article mentions, Federal law says that the polluter pays for cleanup. So the determination has to be made of who did what, and then the polluter made to pay. This takes a lot of time and legal effort. For a good example look to the decades long legal battle to get GE to clean up PCBs in the upper part of the Hudson River in NY.

I believe the Washington Navy Yard is already a super fund site and has been in some process of remediation for years. Hopefully the Navy or the GSA or whoever owns it at this point will continue the effort with the EPA.

Despite the issues the trend is very positive, and the improvement of the Chesapeake Bay in general shows that it's not an impossible task. As an outdoor sportsman, I think it's great.

turcopolier

nick b

Alexandria has an overflow sewage problem into Hunting Creek in heavy rain. Our sewage and street drainage systems are still connected in some places because of the antiquity of the system. We were among the first towns on the east coast to have central sewage and drainage systems as well as a potable water system and illuminating gas and house delivered electricity. The city government, especially the present city government, has preferred to build flashy new projects that have political value for them rather than spend the money underground to fix the Hunting Creek problem. The city is under injunction from the federal courts to fix this problem. for some of you people. wringing your hands over how big the general problem is seems to be an excuse. It is not. pl

nick b

Col.,

You misunderstand me. My point was that everyone has this issue (CSO). Even a well governed city like Alexandria or Fairfax County in general. I don't think the problem is too big, and I believe it will be solved. It will just take time and cooperation. I'm thrilled at the prospect.

turcopolier

nick b

Alexandria's mid-19th Century infrastructure was created by coalitions led by the Fowle family. They had come from Boston. MA two generations before. Then, THE WAR came and they followed their hearts South. pl

nick b

Col.,

And it's a testament to their genius that the systems they put in place, like the sewers, still function as intended almost two centuries later. I doubt anyone much considered combined sewage overflows in antebellum Virginia, or anywhere else for that matter.

My town doesn't even have a sewer system.

Charles Dekle

Col Lang,
We have enjoyed living in Alexandria for the past 2.5 years and dearly love the town. It is a great place for a retiree like me because it is so walkable. My wife walks to the King Street Metro Station to catch the shuttle to the Mark Center. We hardly ever drive any longer. My girth is a testament to the quality of the many fine restaurants. I really enjoy my long walks along the riverfront and people watching.

I am sorry for the new development on the river. The city government should be planning the improvement of the central sewage system before planning for additional strains on the infrastructure.

Kind regards,

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