Wednesday, February 14, 2024

River Renew Project Extension Expected to Pass

On Tuesday, the 2024 Virginia General Assembly session in Richmond reached Crossover. One of the bills to pass the house in a block vote was HB 71 Combined sewer overflow outfalls; compliance with regulations, Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This bill would extend the deadline to fix the Alexandria’s combined sewer system to July 1, 2026 from July 1, 2024. It is expected to pass the Senate.

In 2017 the state legislature mandated that Alexanderia eliminate sewage overflows from the combined sewer system in Old Towne by 2025. This not only created a major challenge for the city, but was in response to the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL mandate. In 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other plaintiffs settled their lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that included a Clean Water Act TMDL, with, enforceable limits on the amount of pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay from the federal impaired waters list. To accomplish this, the six Bay states and the District of Columbia agreed to develop individual plans to achieve those limits by 2025, and EPA committed to holding them accountable and imposing consequences for failure if necessary.

Part of Virginia’s plan requires the elimination of the sewage overflows in Alexandria. The area of Alexandria around Old Town had a Combined Sewer System which is a piped sewer system where there is one pipe that carries both sanitary sewage and stormwater to the local wastewater treatment plant, AlexRenew. This was how sewer systems were often built in the days when sanitation was simply moving sewage out of the city to the rivers and streams. Back then one piping system was cheaper and adequate for the job.

Today when sewage is treated by wastewater treatment plants that is no longer adequate.
When it rains, water that falls in the streets, enters the storm water drains and is combined with the sanitary wastewater entering the sewers from homes and businesses. The combined flow of the sewage and rain can overwhelm the wastewater treatment plant. So, to protect the sewage system as a whole, the combined sewage and rainfall is released into the local creeks from one of the “Combined Sewer Overflows” which are release locations permitted and monitored by the regulators. Though it’s monitored it increases nutrient and bacterial contamination to the streams and rivers and prevents Virginia from meeting its Chesapeake Bay TMDL goals.

When the original legislation passed in 2017, it was an incredibly tight time frame. However,  based partially on the experience of Washington DC in addressing their combined sewer problem, AlexRenew was confident that they could meet this challenge for Alexandria.  The city and AlexRenew submitted a long term control plan to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) that was approved on  July 1, 2018.

Then the pandemic hit and caused supply chain issues. These impacts have resulted in a 90-day delay that will put AlexRenew in conflict with the program’s statutory deadline enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in 2017. The deadline established in the legislation to complete the planning, design, procurement, and construction of RiverRenew by July 1, 2025 to meet the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load plan requirement.

To date, AlexRenew has expended $388 million of the budgeted $615 million for the RiverRenew, but they are reportedly a bit over 90 days behind schedule. AlexRenew, in partnership with the City of Alexandria, worked with David Bulova, their legislator, to sponsor an extension to the 2025 statutory deadline. It is expected to pass. DEQ does not expect any regulatory consequences from the EPA in missing this deadline since the project will continue until completion.  

For a really informative video and project updates go to : RiverRenew | Investing in Healthier Waterways for Alexandria

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