The Potomac River waterfront is key to the beauty and desirability of living in Alexandria. It is the reason Alexandria came to exist in the first place, a conduit for thriving colonial trade. Yet that river was once a trash-filled, odorous eyesore and a major purveyor of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and on to the Atlantic Ocean. We can be pleased that recent actions taken by the City Council will continue the huge regional improvements seen in both the Potomac itself and the Chesapeake Bay, as noted by leading environmental organizations.

The City has voted to transfer ownership, subject to approval by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, of the City’s four combined sewer/storm outfalls to AlexRenew, created in 1952 and the first independent wastewater authority in Virginia.  AlexRenew has the technical capabilities and track record to ably manage what will be a sizeable construction project involving 12 foot diameter tunnels, pumps, storage tanks, and upgrades to the current treatment facility.  As wastewater clean-up technology advances, we can hope for further upgrades on the quality of water that Alexandria returns to the Potomac River. 

The state of Virginia essentially forced Alexandria’s hand to move faster to clean up its wastewater; to its credit, City government worked in an exemplary manner to develop the Long Term Control Plan Update.  This plan received the unanimous support of the Ad Hoc Combined Sewer System Plan Stakeholder Group and was endorsed by the Potomac River Keeper Network environmental group. The project will inevitably be disruptive to areas under construction but we hope that the citizenry will understand what is at stake.

The project is expensive. Cost estimates range from well over $300 million to over $530 million with attendant residential sewer fees rising from between $20 to $40 per month.  That is the price Alexandria will pay and no small amount of blame can be put on past City Councils for kicking the can down the road until it hit the proverbial wall. We urge both AlexRenew and Council to closely monitor construction costs and we certainly hope that there are no delays to completing the task on time in 2025. That would only result in further costs to Alexandria’s taxpayers.  

All in all, we are confident that recent decisions will result in a cleaner, healthier, safer Potomac River for both citizens and wildlife.