current action

DC Bacteria tmdl lawsuit

All of the water bodies covered by the bacteria TMDLs in DC are designated as Class A, meaning they are intended to be clean enough for primary contact recreation uses like swimming and kayaking. For heavily-used aquatic recreation areas, like the DC area, the EPA recommends that water quality criteria include a second (usually higher) concentration level to address short-term exposures.  The pollution caps approved by the EPA do not account for short-term spikes in fecal bacteria concentrations that occur after rainfall, and violate the District's water quality standards, and it keeps people at risk of serious illness."

Status update: August 2016 our attorneys at Earthjustice submitted a civil complaint to the U.S. District Court for D.C. on behalf of Potomac Riverkeeper Network, the Anacostia Riverkeeper, and the Kingman Park Civic Association. We are suing the EPA for approving "total maximum daily loads" (TMDLs) for E. coli in the Anacostia River, the Potomac River, Rock Creek, and their tributaries that fail to meet safe water quality standards. Read our blog.


In 2005, DC Water was ordered by the EPA to implement construction plans for holding tunnels designed to prevent raw sewage from entering the Potomac, Anacostia, and Rock Creek during heavy rainfall. However, in 2014 DC Water announced their intent to change the plans direction—replacing most tunnel construction with green infrastructure (rain gardens, green roofs, etc.).

Status Update: With no clear performance targets set in the revision, or supporting evidence of green infastructure's ability to successfully manage DC's massive CSO's, we filed comments in dissaproval and have requested for a progress report from DC Water once further evidence becomes available. To read our comments, click HERE.

City of Alexandria Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) and Long Term Control Plan (LTCP)

Like Washington D.C., the historic downtown section of Alexandria uses a combined sewer system that dumps untreated sewage and stormwater into Hunting Creek and the Potomac River nearly every time it rains, resulting in millions of gallons of sewage containing E.coli and other pathogens flowing into our waterways every year. Under a new Clean Water Act permit issued by Virginia, Alexandria must develop a plan to reduce the sewage pollution by 2016. The city has begun a public outreach campaign as it develops a list of potential approaches to reduce sewage overflows, including building storage tunnels, using green infrastructure such as green roofs, and separating the sewage and stormwater pipes. We are actively engaging with the city to make sure that its long term plan to reduce these toxic overflows will lead to real improvements in water quality in the future. The three outfalls on Hunting Creek are required to meet a higher standard than the outfall on Oronoco Bay, which flows directly into the Potomac and accounts for a third to a half of the annual 150 million gallons discharged from Alexandria's combined sewer outfalls.

Status Update: On April 2, 2015 Potomac Riverkeeper, Friends of Dyke Marsh and Friends of Accotink Creek sent a letter to the city expressing our support for its public outreach efforts, but also highlighting our concerns about some of the sewage reduction approaches being considered, and reminding Alexandria leaders that our goal is to return the Potomac River to the “fishable, swimmable” waterway envisioned and required by the Clean Water Act. We await the issuance of the draft LTCP in late 2016. In 2016, the city began to consider a stormwater utility fee.