Waste in DC: Keeping up with rapid population growth

For most residents, wastewater treatment is an afterthought, like flushing the toilet. Photo: Public Domain Photos via Creative Commons

If you have ever flushed a toilet in Washington, this story probably affects you, even though you never knew it.

Local government leaders from across the region Wednesday celebrated what they call a "landmark agreement" which ensures the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant can keep up with the population growth for decades to come.

The plant is located in Southeast D.C. and serves two million residents across the region, including Montgomery, Prince George’s, Fairfax, and even part of Loudoun County.

“What it does is it guarantees for 100 years that we’re going to invest in the infrastructure necessary to keep the Potomac clean, the Bay clean and their wastewater treated,” says Stuart Freudberg of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Department of Environmental Programs.

At MWCOG, top-elected officials from the region’s largest jurisdictions signed an “inter-municipal agreement” to support the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant for years to come.

“I think this is the closest thing we’ve had to Middle East peace in the region,” jokes Penelope Gross, (D) Fairfax County.

For most residents, wastewater treatment is an afterthought, like flushing the toilet. But these leaders say operating Blue Plains is critical to keeping waterways clean and allowing for new development.

“In Fairfax County, some of our highest growth areas are served by Blue Plains, so the Tysons Corner area, Dulles Airport, these are critical parts of our county,” says Sharon Bulova, (D) Fairfax County.

The last time local leaders made such an agreement was in 1985 when the region’s population hovered around 3.5 million residents. Today, it’s just about doubled.

“We’re growing at a rate of about 1,100 to 1,200 people a month, which means by 2034, we’ll have added to our population in the District about a quarter of a million people,” says Mayor Vincent Gray, (D) D.C.

The four largest jurisdictions are parties to the agreement, along with D.C. Water and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

“Let us not forget that this is the nation’s capital and it’s one of the major tourist destinations in the U.S. and worldwide, so what we do here is not just important to our citizens directly, but to America and the world in terms of addressing these issues in a proactive, cooperative way,” says Dave Snyder, (D) Falls Church.

The Blue Plains plant provides 43-percent of the wastewater treatment capacity for the region. The jurisdictions will share annual capital and operating costs totaling $822 million.