STATEMENT OF JOHN PARSONS, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR LANDS, RESOURCES, AND PLANNING, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, RECREATION AND PUBLIC LANDS, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, CONCERNING DISCHARGE EFFECTS OF THE WASHINGTON AQUEDUCT
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to discuss the impacts of discharges from the Washington Aqueduct on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historical Park and on the habitat and population of the endangered shortnose sturgeon. Our comments will address the role of the C&O Canal National Historical Park in this matter.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) owns and operates the Washington Aqueduct, which provides drinking water for more than one million people in the metropolitan Washington area. Its history dates back to 1798 when, with the capital city under construction, George Washington suggested that “the water of the Potomac may, and will be brought from Great Falls into the Federal City.” In 1852, Congress commissioned a study of the water supply and, by 1864, the 12-mile aqueduct began carrying water to the Georgetown Reservoir. The primary water intakes for the aqueduct are located behind a low dam in the Potomac River at Great Falls. The river water runs in an underground pipe for most of its path to the Dalecarlia and Georgetown Reservoirs, which are used by the Corps to filter and treat water for public consumption.
The operation of the Washington Aqueduct has a long history that predates the establishment of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Below, we discuss some of the facts about some of the outfalls known to the National Park Service at this time. Three outfalls are in Montgomery County, Maryland. These are permitted by the State of Maryland and provide backflow release that may be used by the Corps during facility maintenance. These outfalls are infrequently used and release raw, untreated river water at points that are within the C&O Canal National Historical Park.
A fourth outfall in Maryland is located near a pump station on Little Falls Branch, a few hundred feet upstream of the Clara Barton Parkway and the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The discharge flows into a natural stream that passes beneath the canal in a culvert. The discharge is permitted by the State of Maryland. Raw river water is discharged at this location during maintenance. On occasion, treated water is discharged here as well. The Corps has facilities to dechlorinate treated water prior to discharge into Little Falls Branch.
In September 2001, as part of a cleanup effort from an August storm, a National Park Service contractor tested the soil from the Little Falls Branch box culvert to determine the potential presence of hazardous or toxic materials in the sediment of the culvert under the Canal. The test was undertaken with applicable US EPA SW-846 methods for aluminum, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), and Toxic Characteristic Leaching Procedure for herbicides, certain metals, pesticides, volatile organics, and base neutrals/acid extractables. The testing did not detect any of the parameters tested for, at or near the respective methods’ Limits of Quantitation. Aluminum and barium were identified, but at concentrations significantly lower than the Federal regulatory thresholds. Based on this test, the contractor firm indicated that the material from the box culvert does not appear to exhibit hazardous characteristics.
Stream sedimentation resulting from discharge to Little Falls Branch does not appear to be a problem within the park. The topography of the area consists of a deep gorge with many rock ledges, and heavy runoff from natural as well as discharge events have scoured the stream bottom of sedimentation. Thus, accumulations of discharged sediments, if any, disburse easily into the stream and do not appear to significantly affect park resources.
Three outfall discharges are piped across the park in the District of Columbia. These outfalls discharge water, sediment and aluminum sulfate (alum) from the settling basins at the Georgetown and Dalecarlia Reservoirs. One pipe discharges directly into the Potomac River, and the other two discharge approximately 75-100 feet into a trench located on park land. This trench drains into the Potomac. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the permitting agency for discharges that occur in the District of Columbia, and we understand that it is currently is in the process of reissuing permits for these three outfalls.
The U.S. Park Police is investigating whether any discharge from the Corps facility has either substantially impaired park resources or violated Federal or District of Columbia law. This ongoing investigation was undertaken based on citizen complaints about odor and floating material.
The C&O Canal National Historical Park presently does not issue any permits to the Corps for discharging on or under Federal property within the park boundary. Public Law 91-664—the 1971 law that established the C&O Canal as a national historical park—provided for utility rights-of-way. Section 5(a) of that law states: “The enactment of this Act shall not affect adversely any valid rights heretofore existing, or any valid permits heretofore issued, within or relating to areas authorized for inclusion in the park.” The Washington Aqueduct discharge lines were in place when the park was established. As we understand it, the Corps has employed such discharge practices since at least 1927. These discharges may predate establishment of the park and even the 1938 transfer of the land to the Federal government by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
The National Park Service does not have jurisdiction over the waters of the Potomac River, although it does have jurisdiction over the river bed in the District of Columbia. Responsibility for managing Potomac River water quality lies with the EPA, the City of Washington, D.C., and the Maryland Department of the Environment. However, water quality is a major concern of the National Park Service. The National Park Service cooperates with the responsible agencies to enhance protection of the river’s water quality and to protect its aquatic resources.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.