The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Washington, D.C. Sewers Back Flow

Sep 28, 2020

Sewage and stormwater erupted from toilets and drains in several hundred homes in Washington, D.C.’s Edgewood and Riggs Park neighborhoods during the record rain on September 10. Only when 900 people attended a virtual community meeting by internet and phone the following week did the city promise to spend one and a half million dollars to help clean up these homes. But this whole revolting mess is both avoidable and certain to happen again.

The city’s century-old combined sewer system connects sewer pipes from homes and stormwater pipes from street sewers. So, sewage and stormwater mix. This means that during heavy rain, mixed sewage and stormwater can be forced back up the pipes and into homes.

A decade ago, a court mandated the city to dig five huge, miles-long tunnels deep underground to catch stormwater and release it into the nearby Anacostia and Potomac rivers so it doesn’t flood homes. But more rain fell than these pricey engineering wonders could handle.

Politicians never renovated the system to separate the pipes. Nor did they install backflow preventer valves, invented 90 years ago, which stop sewage from flowing back up into homes. Now some residents will lay out the hundreds or thousands of dollars to have their foundations dug up to install valves—each on their own, without a city plan—and wait on reimbursement from the city.