Alexandria's combined sewer and storm system dumps millions of gallons of waste into the Potomac.
Old Town has a total of four outfalls, three of which dump raw sewage into Hunting Creek. (Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services)
Leaders in Alexandria are putting together a plan to clean up the raw sewage it dumps into the Potomac River almost every time it rains.
By Earth Day 2035, Alexandria will no longer dump five to ten million gallons of raw human waste into the Potomac River each year. That's the goal set by state regulators last year when they gave the city a permit to continue polluting, for now.
Federal regulators have gone after D.C. for dumping sewage and Nancy Stoner, deputy assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency, says they won't necessarily ignore Alexandria just because it's not a major city.
"There are actions that have been brought against medium to small size cities as well that have combined sewer systems because the sewer overflows can cause a public health problem in those communities as well," Stoner says.
Congressman Jim Moran (D-Va.) says something needs to be done, although finding the money will be difficult.
"The last few Congresses have cut discretionary funding, particularly EPA, and what suffers is this kind of infrastructure," Moran says.
City leaders estimate fixing the problem will cost anywhere from $200 million to $300 million. Potential solutions include digging up streets of Old Town to separate the rainwater from the raw sewage, digging massive underground storage tanks or creating a filter to disinfect the human waste before releasing it into the Potomac River.
Rich Baier, director of the Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, says Richmond is using old underground rail tunnels.
"We don't have that kind of infrastructure here in this city, so if we have to go with underground storage then we would have to go with where we can in areas that are being redeveloped," Baier says.
That could mean new development allowed by the waterfront plan might play a role in cleaning up the millions of gallons of raw sewage from Old Town that contributes to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.