‘We have to get began now’: Search for backup water storage, provide for Potomac River funded



The Energy and Water Appropriations Bill authorised by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden final week accommodates $500,000 in funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start a examine on potential options.

Almost six years after WTOP reported D.C. solely has a one or two-day provide of ingesting water if the Potomac River weren’t obtainable, a examine to seek out potential water storage or one other ingesting water supply will quickly start.

The Energy and Water Appropriations Bill authorised by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden final week accommodates $500,000 in funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start a examine on potential options.

In 2016, water officers lastly made public a long-standing water system shortcoming: D.C. has no backup ingesting water provide. And surrounding communities have restricted choices.

“We solely have about 24 to 48 hours of water provide obtainable ought to the Potomac River develop into unavailable to us,” stated Tom Jacobus in 2016 whereas he was common supervisor of the Washington Aqueduct. Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the aqueduct processes ingesting water for the District and Arlington County and the City of Falls Church in Virginia.

The aqueduct is likely one of the few water-processing services with just one supply. WSSC Water, which serves most of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, attracts 30% of the water it sends to prospects from the Patuxent River. Fairfax Water, which serves Fairfax and Prince William counties, will get a portion of its water from the Occoquan Reservoir.

Now, in 2024, funding is lastly in place for the Army Corps to start figuring out methods to make sure the area has sufficient ingesting water.

“Overall, for the entire area, about 80% of our water provide comes from the Potomac River,” stated Steve Bieber, water sources program director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

A prepare crash, energy plant discharge, underwater pipeline rupture or act of terrorism might make the Potomac briefly unavailable and have an effect on your entire area’s ingesting water.

“The influence of it might actually be catastrophic,” Bieber stated. “You can think about companies having to shut, colleges having to shut, if the water provide had been severely diminished or, in some circumstances, unavailable.”

Bieber stated the entire estimated value of the examine over three years is about $3 million.

“The $500,000 is to get issues began in yr one,” Bieber stated. For the $3 million whole, “we envision half of that being paid by the federal authorities — the U.S. Army — and the opposite half paid by native companions like COG, and the water utilities within the area.”

In phrases of doable water storage prospects, Rudy Chow, common supervisor of the Washington Aqueduct, informed WTOP in 2022, the potential for using the Travilah Quarry on Piney Meetinghouse Road in Rockville, Maryland, to offer water storage for the area’s water utilities could be very costly.

Chow believes there are some less-costly choices than a quarry.

“Can we enhance underground storage services, tanks, to extend that capability? That is one thing that must be checked out,” Chow stated in 2022. Other choices could be reclaiming Potomac Water, by recycling it for ingesting water functions.

Bieber informed WTOP native water suppliers have to plan forward, “for issues in 2050 or 2070.”

“The actuality is, if we need to have one thing constructed, on-line and operating to satisfy the wants 20 years from now, we have to do the three-year examine now, to determine the choice we favor,” Bieber warned. “Planning, design, and to implement that plan will take one other a number of years after the examine — we have to get began now, so we’ll have one thing on-line, earlier than there’s an issue.”

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