Sewage Discharges Pose Serious Public Health Risk in Alexandria

Oronoco Bay covered in algae.

Oronoco Bay covered in algae.

As the City of Alexandria considers a stormwater utility fee to reduce polluted stormwater from running into the streams and the Potomac River, we want to remind the city and it’s residents that Alexandria has a significant storm water problem that poses a serious public health risk. Millions of gallons of untreated sewage discharge into the Potomac River at Oronoco Bay every year. Every time it rains, stormwater rushes into the storm drains and combines with sewage, which overwhelms their combined sewage and stormwater system (CSS) and dumps upwards of 150 million gallons per year of untreated sewage into the Potomac River and Hunting Creek. 

While the city is developing a Long Term Control Plan to deal with combined sewer and stormwater overflows at outfalls 002, 003, 004 discharging into Hunting Creek, outfall 001 discharges directly into Oronoco Bay. Outfall 001 discharges roughly half of Alexandria's sewage laden stormwater into the Potomac River - approximately 70 million gallons a year - where people paddle, wade fish and frequently recreate. 

Infograph from SwimGuide.org

Infograph from SwimGuide.org

The city is beginning to redevelop its waterfront, encouraging more people to come down to the river and significantly increasing on-the-water activity (similar to Georgetown Waterfront). After a rain event sewage laden stormwater combined with toilet paper, condoms and trash washing off city streets, flushes into Oronoco Bay. This is not only visually appalling but will continue to increase public health risks as more and more people come into direct contact with sewage. Oronoco Bay is currently covered from one side to the other with algae (and floating trash and debris dumping from 001) as a result of excess nutrient pollution. Algae can also pose a public health risk. Yet, the city says it does not have money to fix this problem. 

Senator Scott Surovell, who represents more than 200,000 constituents down river from Alexandria, recently wrote a letter to Virginia DEQ demanding Alexandria address outfall 001 as Alexandria sewage and stormwater pollution directly impacts the health of the river and the Chesapeake Bay. 

It is important to emphasize that Alexandria's identity and future tourism is directly tied to the Potomac River. Alexandria business leaders and citizens would never support allowing this problem to continue if they actually knew about it. The public deserves to know that investments in stormwater are good economic investments for the city of Alexandria.

Revisions to the LTCP are happening this month, and we will continue to push for the inclusion of outfall 001. Help us remind Alexandria’s local political leadership that polluting our rivers with third world sewage treatment strategies is unacceptable.

Alexandria sends raw sewage mixture into PotomacPeggy Fox, WUSA9, September 16, 2016

Alexandria spews 11 million gallons of raw sewage into the Potomac each year, Patricia Sullivan, The Washington Post, October 10, 2016

Alexandria plans to let raw sewage keep flowing into PotomacPeggy Fox, WUSA9, October 12, 2016