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DC Water Takes Aim At Sewage Overflows With Giant Tunnel Boring Machine

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Nicknamed "Lady Bird," the giant drill bit will carve out a tunnel 22 feet in diameter.
Elliott Francis
Nicknamed "Lady Bird," the giant drill bit will carve out a tunnel 22 feet in diameter.

Engineers with DC Water are set to begin a project which will reduce sewage overflows in the Anacostia River by 98 percent. The project involves a series of tunnels excavated by a two story high drill the length of a football field.

The idea is to capture the sewage overflow that normally runs into the Anacostia and divert it to the District's waste treatment plant in southwest. DC Water and Sewer Authority general manager George Hawkins says the first tunnel is expected to be complete by 2018.

"Then we're building a second tunnel under the Potomac and a third tunnel under Rock Creek," Hawkins says. "All told, that's a $2.6 billion project."

The second two tunnels are expected to be completed by 2025. All told, engineers say sewage overflows in the Anacostia will be reduced by 98 percent.

As Mayor Vincent Gray and officials with DC's water authority christened that huge boring drill, there was some discussion about the price tag. While much of the cost is expected to be covered by rate increases, Gray says customers will benefit.

"Eventually, what you'll have, frankly, is the ratepayers will wind up paying less because there will be less water usage," Gray says.

Engineers claim the sewage diversion project is also expected to dramatically reduce the incidents of flooding which have been common in the Bloomingdale and LeDroit neighborhoods during heavy rainstorms.

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