Your Views: We’re all investors in Alexandria’s waterways

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The Potomac River was high even at low tide on Monday afternoon (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)
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To the editor:

Alexandria’s health and prosperity depend on clean waterways, and clean waterways depend on a well-functioning wastewater system. The Potomac River and its tributaries receive the cleaned water treated to the highest standards at our wastewater treatment plant. Our goal is to protect public and environmental health and keep our waterways clean.

Alexandria Renew Enterprises, a public authority serving about 300,000 residents and businesses in Alexandria and parts of Fairfax County, cleans our community’s used water daily. For 67 years, AlexRenew has invested almost $1 billion in upgrades to improve water quality, treatment capacity and processing efficiency.

AlexRenew has been charged with mitigating the outdated combined sewer system that serves 5 percent of Alexandria, and addressing the extra flows entering our separated sewers in the West End. As a result, in the coming months, we will all see a rate increase in our sewer bills.

Rates are rising for several reasons. First, AlexRenew’s wastewater facilities require ongoing improvements to meet the increased federal requirements for treating wastewater. Second, AlexRenew is working to address the extra flows that enter the plant when it rains or area soil is saturated from leaking wastewater laterals and utility holes. Our Fairfax County partners will fund their share of the remediation work for the management of their extra flows at AlexRenew.

Lastly, AlexRenew is working with the city to tackle a legacy problem – the remediation of a combined sewer system in older parts of Alexandria, where millions of gallons of sewage mixed with rainwater discharge into the Potomac during wet weather events.

The solution to the combined sewer overflow and the extra flows that enter the separate sanitary sewers is a program called “RiverRenew,” which is being managed by AlexRenew in partnership with the city. RiverRenew involves the construction of a tunnel system that will capture the flows from the combined sewers and upgrades at the wastewater plant to accommodate these flows.

RiverRenew is estimated to cost between $370 and $555 million. Its design and construction will be funded largely by rate increases for the Alexandria residents and businesses who are daily users of the system. Rates are expected to increase approximately 13 percent in the next year and 11 percent in the year after.

We have received a grant of $25 million from the Commonwealth of Virginia toward this massive infrastructure program. We will work to secure additional state funding in the future as the progress of this major infrastructure project continues.

Rate policy is determined by AlexRenew’s city council-appointed board of directors, five community members who live in Alexandria and pay the same bills we all do. The board calculates rate increases on a four-point philosophy: 1) fiscal responsibility to cover AlexRenew’s costs of service; 2) transparency and appropriate public notice and input; 3) compassion through payment flexibility options and 4) diligent planning and projections to avoid drastic increases year after year.

The Potomac River and its tributaries are natural assets that promote Alexandria’s commercial viability, protect public health, encourage recreation and enhance our quality of life. Investing in our wastewater system ensures the preservation of these vital natural resources. Our water sources and services are another way we are all connected and are systems we all share and invest in together.

The AlexRenew board of directors will hold a public hearing to receive public comment on the pro- posed rate increases at 9:30 a.m. on May 11 at AlexRenew, 1800 Limerick St.

-Justin Wilson, mayor, City of Alexandria

-John Hill, chairman of the board, Alexandria Renew Enterprises

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