On November 1, 2017, Potomac Riverkeeper Network sent comments to EPA calling for major changes to the Clean Water Act discharge permit for the Blue Plains Wastewater plant in Washington D.C. While the DC government has invested heavily to upgrade this facility and reduce untreated sewage discharges from its combined sewers, the draft permit still fails to set strict limits on fecal bacteria contained in the treated effluent flowing into the Potomac River. The permit fails to set daily limits, instead relying on a monthly average to determine whether the discharges pose a risk to paddlers and swimmers in the river.
As everyone knows, people don’t swim in average water, and relying on averages hides spikes in pollution that can make people sick.
The permit also fails to require updated public notification procedures when untreated sewage is discharged from D.C.’s 59 sewer outfalls around the city. Unlike Philadelphia and Chicago, where residents can check real time interactive maps or receive text alerts of discharges, D.C. continues to rely on two antiquated warning lights along the waterfront to alert the public of raw sewage flowing into the river.
It’s high time D.C. joined the 21st century and developed public notification methods that are a match for the growing number of paddlers on the DC waterfront.