Public Speaker on Public Issues



Part 2

Washington, D.C. - The first part of this series, Hypocrisy of Democracy, highlighted the intellectually dishonest effort of major environmental groups and Capitol Hill career climbers in calling for more money to protect public lands. The intellectual dishonesty came into focus as the cameras rolled during their press conference in front of the Capitol pointing fingers at rural American sites that supposedly exemplified destruction and abuse of our nation's natural heritage.

No where in their documents or rhetoric was any mention or profiling made of the genuine destruction taking place right in the nation's capital and on National Park Service lands, and to one of the American Heritage Rivers, the Potomac. The well substantiated violations of both the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act relative to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the shortnose sturgeon were totally ignored. Actually, politically protected would be a far more accurate description.

The Potomac River is a major water way in the Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C. area. It flows right through this massively urbanized area. Supposedly protected by the Clean Water Act, its designation as an American Heritage River and as a spawning ground for the endangered shortnose sturgeon one would never suspect that over one million pounds of toxic sludge is being routinely flushed into the Potomac. How's that for protection of our nation's natural heritage?

Water from the Potomac River supplies drinking water to Washington, D.C. and parts of Maryland and Virginia. On a daily basis 725 million gallons of water are pumped into the Dalecarlia Reservoir from the Potomac. To make the water fit for human consumption; it is treated by sedimentation, coagulation, chlorination and filtration.

The water is treated with activated charcoal to improve taste, Potassium permanganate to control plant growth, liquid chlorine for control of bacteria and Hydrated lime to reduce acidity. We are talking about thousands of tons of these necessary chemicals.

Suspended solids in th raw water are filtered through a sand filter at the Dalecarlia Treatment Plant. To make the solids sink to the bottom, aluminum sulfate, or alum is introduced into the water. The solids attach themselves to the chemical and eventually sink to the bottom of the holding basins.
The Corps of Engineers (Corps) drains four sediment basins approximately 22 times a year, and the sediment is removed. This is done by bringing in huge fire hoses and/or bull dozers which push the sediment into a major national historic waterway---none other then the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal which is a national historic park managed by the National Park Service. The word managed is used very loosely here.

The toxic laden sediment (sludge) created by this processing is flushed back into the Potomac and smack onto the only known Potomac spawning grounds of the endangered shortnose sturgeon. Only in the nation's capital could such clear, repeated and outrageous violation of major environmental laws be condoned.

No one is disputing the fact that all cities need water treatment facilities. However, no water treatment facility is supposed to be exempt from the laws regulating their activities. Apparently, highly urbanized and politicized areas are exempt.

The discharge permit violations cited by the challenging entity, The National Wilderness Institute, are as follows: Floating Solids and Visible Foam, Lack of Notification Prior to Discharge, Failure to Report Discharges, Failure to Monitor Discharges.

One way to avoid this degradation would be to build a solids treatment facility near the settling basins and truck the material to a landfill. This is, of course, not a reasonable approach according to folks living in a posh neighborhood nearby.

Ironically, a group calling themselves Citizens for Responsible Urban Disposal at Dalecarlia will have no such trucks driving through their neighborhood. Quoting directly from the web page of the NWI ( this 'urbanly responsible' organization warned Mayor-elect Anthony Williams in a 1998 letter that elimination of the Corps' discharges would "reduce the quality of the neighborhood and thus the value of our homes" and cautioned the Mayor-elect "to be cautious when the environmental advisors come to you advocating the lofty, commendable goals of stopping 'environmental releases' into the Potomac." Civic arrogance at its best!

In part three of this series, we'll examine the connection among the shortnose sturgeon, sludge and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge which crosses the Potomac; assess what all this really means, and what can we as Americans do. In the meantime, checkout the NWI web site for more background information.

~ America's Voice, May 22, 2002

Permission granted to reprint in full or part with full credit given to author.

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