Housing Complex

Five Million Gallons of Sewage Just Spilled Across the Capital Crescent Trail

People are advised to avoid portions of the Capital Crescent Trail.

People are advised to avoid portions of the Capital Crescent Trail.

A break in a major sewer interceptor late Wednesday sent an estimated five million gallons of sewage spilling across the Capital Crescent Trail and into the Potomac River, according to DC Water. The trail will remain closed as DC Water repairs the break, which could take a week or longer.

Interceptor sewers receive sewage flow from multiple smaller trunk sewers. The interceptor that ruptured on Wednesday, the Upper Potomac Interceptor, carries sewage to the city's wastewater treatment plant at Blue Plains, in the southern tip of the city. The spill from the break, according to a DC Water press release, ran overland, across the trail, and into the Potomac. DC Water dispatched a contractor crew to install a temporary sewage bypass until full repairs are completed. The break occurred during record-setting rainfall that ended yesterday morning.

The Capital Crescent Trail is closed to the public between Fletchers Cove and the end of the trail, at Water Street in Georgetown. DC Water urges everyone to avoid contact with the area.

DC Water also cautions the public to avoid contact with the Potomac for 72 hours, although the agency says this is the case after all heavy rains that cause combined sewer overflows. The ongoing $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project is aimed at reducing these overflows.

Normally, when sewage levels rise to a certain level in a rainstorm, a dam is designed to deflate and send the combined sewer overflows into the river, says DC Water spokesman John Lisle. But something appears to have malfunctioned on Wednesday, causing breaks in a pipe and sending the sewage across the trail at two locations, both near the intersection of Foxhall Road and Canal Road, just west of Georgetown.

The cleanup effort, says Lisle, is starting today. DC Water is coordinating with the National Park Service to clean both the trail and the adjacent vegetation. The agency is installing physical barriers to keep people off that section of the trail, and personnel will also be present to ensure the no one comes into contact with the contaminated area.

"We’re trying to clean it up as fast as we can, and get it reopened for trail users," says Lisle.

This post has been updated to include comments from Lisle.

Photo by Flickr user Daniel Lobo

  • E. Masquinongy

    sounds like a good reason to increase the water rates...

  • Krista

    What absolutely disgusts me about this story is not that it spilled over a trail, but that the standard practice for heavy rainfall events is to intentionally direct raw sewage into the river!!

  • marchant wentworth

    What spilled into the river was a mixture of rainwater and sewage -- a legacy of a 100 year old sewer system that DC Water is upgrading. They have already started construction on a huge tunnel to address almost all the overflows on the Anacostia. But their proposal to substitute green infrastructure for some of the tunnels on the Potomac and Rock Creek needs details to prove it can do the job.

  • DC resident

    So where does that leave us on paddleboarding and kayaking in georgetown? If I fall into the water or get wet from paddling will I get sick? Key Bridge Boathouse was open this weekend even though the WaPo reported that officials said to stay out of the water for all recreational activities until Monday. Is it okay to kayak?

  • Kate Nicholson

    I heard the river was unsafe, and to avoid it for 72 hours--so I'm surprised the boathouse was open as it's pretty much right where the trail starts that was affected by the sewage spill. I didn't see a lot of people on the river, and I avoided it over the weekend just to be safe.

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  • jeff

    I swam in the Shenandoah after a sewage spill that was unreported and was sick as hell for a month. the five year old with me did not go underwater like I did so he was ok. doc said if the kid had gone under water it could have killed him. our rivers are disgusting and our govts try and hide the real dangers and the really aweful truth about what we dump. of course the crabs in the bay and pretty much everything else are dying out. not rocket science to figure that one out. if the bay was clean and the rivers were clean we would have people from all over the world wanting to come here and spend money just to swim, boat, and fish in a clean environment.