WASHINGTON – Legislation to give some management control of the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant to suburban counties is on the way, said Republican Rep. Thomas Davis III following a congressional hearing Friday.
Management of the Blue Plains facility, located in Southwest Washington, has been criticized recently following questions about poor management and water quality. The District government recently came under fire for using $81 million targeted for repairs in facilities such as Blue Plains for other city programs.
The facility is owned and operated by the D.C. government, but also treats sewage from the Virginia and Maryland suburbs.
“The current situation is unacceptable,” said Davis, R-Falls Church, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on the District of Columbia. “Blue Plains legislation will clearly be forthcoming.”
Congress is already considering a plan from the D.C. Control Board that would set up a new, 10-member authority to oversee Blue Plains. It would include four suburban members.
A spokesman for Davis said the congressman’s proposal would be “reasonably similar to what the Control Board approved.”
Davis urged cooperation between all area jurisdictions.
“Consumers don’t care whether their water comes from the D.C. government, the Fairfax government, the Board of Engineers or the fire department,” Davis said. “They just want good quality water coming from the tap at the lowest price.”
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the ranking member on the House subcommittee, invited the suburban governments to negotiate with the city, rather than threaten law suits.
“The many sins of the D.C. government are conceded,” Norton said. “I think this whole thing could be wrapped up with a little movement from both sides.”
She said lawsuits should be avoided.
“I don’t know how many times I have seen the District go into court over hassles that it would definitely lose, spending our money fighting suits in which it could not possibly succeed,” Norton said. “The District is trying its best to comply. Surely Virginia must see that.”
W. Michael McCabe, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, said Friday that both the Blue Plains facility and the Washington Aqueduct have violated federal water quality standards in recent years and could potentially harm their consumers.
Close to 40 percent of the treated water from Blue Plains is used by the District. About 7 percent goes to Fairfax County, Loudoun County, the Town of Vienna and Dulles National Airport. Roughly half goes to Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
McCabe said more funds are needed for water treatment.
Blue Plains, which treats water for close to two million people, has received federal grants of about $600 million since 1973, McCabe said.
“I would respectfully suggest that Congress give serious consideration to new financing systems for both the water and the waste water treatment systems,” McCabe said.
Larry King, director of the D.C. Public Works Department, said, “Our problem has always been cash.”
During the hearing, Norton also expressed concern about the condition of the facilities.
She referred often to the water scare in December 1993 when a boil-water notice was given to D.C. residents and several suburban areas. Water treated in the District had been found cloudy due to tiny particles, which could have signaled that bacteria was present.
How much residents pay for water will also have to be decided in the near future. Water rates have not been raised since 1987, and the D.C. Control Board announced Feb. 14 that rates need to rise by 70 percent to cover repair costs.
Davis said the subcommittee would discuss the issues with all the local jurisdictions in upcoming hearings. “Certainly the Blue Plains issue is going to be up before our committee in the near future,” he said. “The key question is how we can get the best sewer and water systems at the lowest price.” -30-