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DC Water proposes sewer improvements, new roads

Major infrastructure projects, such as sewer construction, can cause a lot of disruption without many tangible benefits. But in Upper Northwest, proposed sewer repairs could result in new bike paths and connections to local parks.

Glover Archbold Park today. Photo by l r on Flickr.

DC Water needs to repair disintegrating sewer lines in Glover Archbold Park and the Soapstone Valley, which could include building an access road. Not fixing the lines could cause sewage to build up in the park. But both conservationists and the National Park Service, which owns the land, are afraid that it will require losing trees and disrupting wildlife habitats.

Another proposal, to completely move the pipes and build pumping stations, has residents concerned that DC Water and NPS are not fully considering all policy alternatives. At a public presentation in July, ANC3B Commissioner Mary Young, who represents Cathedral Heights, said the proposal could violate Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. "No one has spoken much about the enormous carbon footprint that the city will face with the pumping stations," she said.

At the meeting, DC Water presented several options for the repairing the sewer. Their intent is to find a way to do so while also preserving parkland. Options include lining the pipes to repair them, daylighting some of the stormwater pipes, removing the lines completely, and building pumping stations.

If the pipes are abandoned and left as they are, sewage could build up in the park and become hazardous to everyone. In an email, DC Water spokesman John Lisle says the existing pipes and manholes are structurally compromised.

While the repairs may be disruptive, they present an opportunity to make it easier to reach Glover Archbold Park and the Soapstone Valley. The proposed pipe lining option will require an access road, which could provide connections to Glover Park. ANC3D Commissioner Kent Slowinski, who represents Wesley Heights, suggests that an access road created in consultation with NPS could have bike lanes and link to the future bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue, creating a direct route between Georgetown and American University.

The access road could accommodate other users as well, like visitors with disabilities. Today, the park is "totally inaccessible" to wheelchairs because of a lack of paved paths, said Young.

As with many infrastructure projects, DC Water and NPS will need to find a solution that creates needed sewer infrastructure while minimizing impacts on the ecosystem and neighbors. But the added benefit of a paved, multi-use path in the park could make this project much more attractive to the community.

Lisle notes that the design process has just started, nor have any decisions been made. It's possible that construction may not happen for at least 2 years, he says. That means now is the best time for the community to weigh in. The National Park Services will take public comments on the proposal until August 18. After that, ANC3B will host representatives from DC Water and NPS at their next meeting September 12.

Abigail Zenner, is a former lobbyist turned communications specialist. She specializes in taking technical urban planning jargon and turning it into readable blog posts. When she's not nerding out about urban planning, transportation, and American History, you may find her teaching a fitness class. Her blog posts represent her personal views only. 


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"No one has spoken much about the enormous carbon footprint that the city will face with the pumping stations"

Methane is a much, much worse greenhouse gas than CO2 is. Apart from safety, this is one of the reasons why oil rigs burn off the excess methane that they're unable to capture or process.

If sewage leaks, we'll be significantly worse off than we'd be if we installed a few electric pumps. This is concern trolling at its worst.

It's pretty incredible to see the anti-neighbors crawl out of the woodwork to oppose emergency sewer repairs.

by andrew on Aug 14, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

Thanks for this write up.

Do we know that an access road could double as a multi-use trail? Do you have any sense of whether NPS is open to this idea?

And where would the access road run?

A multi-use trail running from Tenleytown to Georgetown would be a great amenity and would actually criss cross the proposed NM Avenue bike path so they would connect somewhat different areas but combined would add up to great north-south connectivity for bikes from Upper NW to Lower NW in an area that is currently poorly served.

Could DC Water be convinced to build a multi use trail that covered the park end to end even if DC Water does not need the access road for the entire length of the park? Would NPS be amenable?

This could be a win-win if the park ended up with an end to end multi use trail.

by TomQ on Aug 14, 2013 12:41 pm • linkreport

Don't know the details, but Pataspco Valley State Park wasn't destroyed when the Baltimore County DPW did a similar project. They do have an access road, but it isn't paved. In the bike plan I did we suggested that it to be converted to a bicycle trail. (It paralleled, in part, a BGE transmission corridor.)

by Richard Layman on Aug 14, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

Lining the pipes seems like the least bad option. Our sewer pipes run through valleys. It's logical - that's the way to drain water without pumping it but it means that we need to get to them when the pipes need to be replaced or fixed.

I wonder what Glover and Soapstone looked like when the pipes were installed originally? It must have been near total destruction. And before that? Storm water and sewer water must have drained right into the stream bed. In contrast, this will be much friendlier.

Regarding the bike path, that would be a very big change and, with Glover, would face issues of crossing Cathedral Ave, Reservoir and other roads. It's still worthy of serious consideration.

by Tenley on Aug 14, 2013 2:32 pm • linkreport

The most recent newsletter at our condo included a letter from (I thought) DC Water, describing the lining process as, at best, a temporary measure that would still mean having to replace the pipes in the future and sooner than if they are just replaced now. If they are lined, they'd still have to be replaced in 20 years versus lasting another 50 if replaced now. (Those may not be the exact numbers.)

I'm intrigued by any option that results in a bike/multi-use path down the park to G-town. Currently bikes are prohibited in the park. But the road access for bikes is pretty good, imo. I rode that way today.

by RDHD on Aug 14, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

I'm tentatively in favor. I used to live in Glover Park right off those trails. I will say there are significant elevation changes and they aren't terribly straight trails. If you want to put a bike path it, it would absolutely need to be seperate from the walking trails as there is often no easy place to get out of the way of a passing cyclist. The good news is that there is absolutely enough room to do so a la sections of Rock Creek Park Trails minus the annoying car traffic.

by Alan B. on Aug 14, 2013 3:06 pm • linkreport

Great article and I'm hopeful ANC 3D can get us this amenity. But as it pertains to Mr. Slowinski, he was vehemently against the NW bike lanes and voted against them. If he has since changed his mind and now wants to create more bike connections to his part of town, that is great and shows he is listening to his constituents. Being a skeptic, color me dubious.

by fongfong on Aug 14, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

I am generally in favor of replacement over lining, particularly if NPS is open to a bike amenity. It would be a great way to connect to G'town and the C&O area.

by William on Aug 14, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

Just to provide a little clarification for everyone. Lining the pipes would require an access road inside the park.

Removing and taking the pipes out of the park would mean no access road (possible bike path) and would need to build pumping stations.

Please keep the comments coming and if you feel strongly, please send in comments to NPS at the link in the article.

by Abigail Zenner on Aug 14, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

Further clarification. DC Water has been very clear in both of its public meetings and its statements about the nature of the potential paths in the two parks. It has not proposed new roads in either park. Ms. Zenner has misunderstood DC Water's alternatives.

In order to reline the sanitary sewer pipes (and this project is entirely concerned with the sanitary sewers), it will need to use access paths through the parks. These paths will need to be at least 12 feet wide and would require the removal of hundreds of trees of varying sizes, but DC Water has not proposed paved roads. Rather, it would like to widen the existing trails and use layers of wood chips to line the paths to distribute the weight of the vehicles and reduce soil compaction. When trails are not available, however, it will build new paths to access its sanitary sewer assets. DC Water would have to do its best to repair the damage caused, and that would likely include narrowing the paths once the project was finished. Nevertheless, the scars would be substantial.

Ms. Zenner's later comment on the removal of pipes from the park is also incorrect. Digging pipes out of the ground and hauling them away will have several significant impacts on the park, including the creation of access paths in order to get heavy equipment to the sites. These two parks have more than four miles of sanitary sewer pipes between them. To my knowledge, DC Water has not seriously considered the removal of all, or even most, of its sanitary sewer assets from these parks. One alternative is the abandoning of its sanitary sewer assets and the re-routing of sewage away from the park.

Ms. Zenner is correct that the process is in a very early stage and that no decisions have been made. DC Water has been remarkably transparent so far and has sought germane input. Make no mistake; these are major and necessary projects, and DC Water wants to get them right. No one wants a catastrophic sewer break. So please- read their materials, attend the meetings, listen carefully and offer comment.

by Al on Aug 14, 2013 11:26 pm • linkreport


While I love running on the existing forest trails, the possibility of a proper MUT is just so appealing as a transportation amenity. The questions I have about it areole related to whether it should be lit or not, alignments, and outlets to the neighborhood.

A paved trail here would serve a lot of latent demand in the area.

Also, there are many examples of MUTs built over pipelines to protect them from erosion, and it seems like this is needed in these valleys to protect the sewers.

by Will on Aug 15, 2013 12:15 am • linkreport

The issue is not the possibility of bike or handicapped access to the Glover Archbold and Soapstone Valley parks. If it was that simple, that would be great.

I was at the ANC 3 meeting with DC Water and the National Park Service. Two ideas were presented for solving the sewer problem - either relining current pipes or building a new system that will intercept sewage pipes outside the park and pump the sewage into the DC's main sewage system. The re-lining would last about 50 years.

In either case, the "disruption" will take over a year. Re-lining the pipes is probably less disruptive, but it means that DC Water will have to build access roads into the park to accommodate large trucks. In addition, the sewage will need to be diverted via temporary above ground pipes while the old pipes are being re-lined. A lot of trees will have to be cut down. It won't be pretty.

At the meeting, the National Park Service said that it has the final word on any project in the parks. It also said it is opposed to ANY kind of road (including a simple wood-chip road). According to DC Water, the NPS offered two plots for major pumping stations - one by the Tunlaw Road garden and the other in the open meadow at Van Ness.

So the real question is whether the NPS will let DC Water build the roads and cut down trees in the park in order to re-line the pipes. If they don't, DC Water will have no choice but to tear up streets and install a whole new system of pipes and pumping stations.

In either case, these parks will be undergoing some major changes in the next couple of years.

by JoanneP on Aug 16, 2013 1:12 am • linkreport

A bike path that ran through Glover Arhibold Park to to Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown would be great amenity. It would serve Tenleytown, AU Park, McLean Gardens, AU, Cathedral Heights, Glover Park, Burleith and Georgetown (west).

by Alf on Aug 19, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

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