Raw sewage flowing right into a river sounds like a third-world country problem. But it's happening in one of the wealthiest areas in the state of Virginia: Old Town Alexandria.
"I think it's a shocking. A travesty," said Alexandria resident Sally Tamm who was letting her dog run in a park adjacent to the algae bloom at the site of the problem.
It's been happening for decades. You can see the algae bloom where sewage flows into the Potomac River when it rains.
"I had no idea. I won't let my dogs swim in the water," after other dogs got sick form doing so, said Linda Wolf, an Alexandria real estate agent.
The old, combined sewer system (CSS) mixes raw sewage and storm water during rainstorms, when the system is overwhelmed. Every year, about 70 million gallons of the mixture flows out though a large pipe at the end of Oronoco Street at the north end of Old Town.
"We all know crap goes downhill. When it rains too much the stuff goes downhill and they can't get it over to the sewage plant fast enough. They need to build a tunnel or a big storage facility," said state Senator Scott Surovell who represents a district downstream.
"You're talking about a bunch of toilet affluent from some of the wealthiest people in the D.C. Metro area. And I don't understand why they can't solve their own problem. The Potomac River is a shared asset. And wee all use us. But one locality shouldn't be able to dump raw sewage into it that hurts everybody else," said Surovell.
There are three other places in Alexandria where a raw sewage and rain water mix flows into the environment. Responding to a requirement from the state, the city has just submitted a plan for a permit to address those three sites that flow into Hunting Creek by constructing a 1.6 million gallon storage tunnel.
But there is not a similar plan for the outflow into the Potomac at Oronoco.
"If it were simple, it'd be done. It's very expensive and very disruptive," explained Bill Skrabak, Deputy Director Transportation and Environmental Services. To fix the problem at Oronoco Bay would cost between $80 and $120 million he said.
City Council members want the state to help pay for the fixes in this historic city.
There are nearly 800 cities in America with combined sewer systems. D.C. is one and it's working on corrections. In Virginia, Richmond and Lynchburg also have combined sewer systems.
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