D.C. Looks to Green Infrastructure to Address CSOs

Last May, George Hawkins, General Manger of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, spoke to Clean Rivers Campaign supporters during our Beyond Tunnel Vision Speaker Series about his efforts to utilize green infrastructure to solve sewer overflow issues in D.C. Read a recap of his presentation here.

Like Pittsburgh, D.C. has been issued a consent decree by the EPA to address its CSO overflows. Its aging water infrastructure leads to its CSO problem. To rectify the situation, they can rebuild underground tunnels that carry the city’s wastewater and stormwater, but doing so is physically and financially challenging. For example, a major construction zone would take place along valuable property in D.C., starting at the Kennedy Center and continuing along Georgetown’s waterfront. This construction would alter traffic patterns and the appeal of the area.

Because of these challenges (and other benefits offered), Hawkins has come to embrace the benefits and productivity of green infrastructure. He feels it offers more job opportunities to D.C. residents as well as more opportunity for community involvement. Everyone is so dependent upon their water infrastructure and yet, they rarely witness it in action. With green infrastructure, citizens can be part of the construction, execution, and maintenance of a system that they rely on so heavily each day.

Hawkins’ new goal is to more strategically capture stormwater with a smaller and shorter tunnel, and to use green infrastructure to compensate for what is not captured by the tunnel. Still an idea, D.C. Water has established a Green Infrastructure Challenge meant to collect information and ideas about implementing green infrastructure in D.C.

Hawkins has faced opposition to his plan as some feel a delay in addressing the consent decree is unproductive. However, Hawkins feels researching and investing in green infrastructure is considerate of D.C.’s future. He points out that pipes around the country have been in use since the Civil War, so it’s reasonable to assume that infrastructure decisions made today will have an impact on our country for years to come. Taking the time to research the solution that will be best for D.C. now and in the future is important to Hawkins and his team.

For more, please see this blog post from The Fight Back, a blog reporting on activism in Washington D.C.

What are your thoughts on Hawkins’ approach to using green infrastructure? Is he delaying the consent decree or thoughtfully managing the process?