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Between now and 2025 DC Water will spend the remainder of $2.6 billion fixing DC’s outdate sewer and stormwater systems. This project, mandated through a federal court order, is being financed almost exclusively by DC residents. By 2019 the average ratepayer’s monthly bill is expected to increase to over $100. As a city it’s time to creatively consider how we get the most bang—clean water, green jobs and green neighborhood revitalization–for our collective buck.

As background, stormwater runoff is a problem of the modern city. Over the last 100 years we’ve turned much of city into paved streets, parking lots, sidewalks and roofs. Now when it rains, millions of gallons of rain water run off our streets and into our antiquated sewer system–causing flooding and overflowing untreated sewage and other pollutants into area rivers. In 2005, DC Water reached a legal agreement with EPA to reduce these overflows by 96% by 2025. DC Water initiated the $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project to achieve this goal.

Reducing (and ultimately eliminating) sewage overflows into our rivers is and should be the primary focus of the Clean Rivers Project. However it doesn’t have to be the only return we see on this massive investment of ratepayer money. With some political will and imagination we could use this massive investment to create thousands of living wage green jobs and spur green neighborhood revitalization across the city in additions to cleaning area rivers.

Late last year DC Water entered into a preliminary partnership agreement with the EPA to explore using green infrastructure (rain gardens, pervious pavers, green roofs etc.) as an alternative or complement to current big-tunnel approach. This is a positive step. If the Clean Rivers Project begins to include a substantive amount of green infrastructure (GI) thousands of entry-level career track jobs could be created in green infrastructure design, installation and maintenance. These would go a long way to dealing with stubborn unemployment numbers in Ward 5,7 & 8. Green Infrastructure could also create opportunities to rethink our neighborhood streetscapes to create a greener, more livable, walkable city. I for one would love to see some green Infrastructure along Kennedy Street in my neighborhood.

These jobs won’t create themselves however. There has to be the political will to train and prepare unemployed DC workers for these jobs and hold contractors and DC Water accountable for hiring them. The green infrastructure won’t install itself either. DC is bureaucratic maze of local, federal and private land ownership. Large scale green infrastructure will require resident buy-in city-wide to hold local and federal government and agencies accountable for working together to make large scale GI implementation possible.

WIN has begun building a cross-city constituency to make sure that city officials use the Clean Rivers Project to create multiple benefits for our neighborhoods. On Earth Day 2013 we will gather 1000 neighborhood leaders to call for a comprehensive plan for job creating and green neighborhood revitalization within the Clean Rivers Project. We literally can’t afford to do otherwise.

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