Bay Journal

Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. Her work for the Bay Journal often focuses on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and she is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

DC Water turns to private firms for green infrastructure projects

  • January 13, 2014
Members of the Kennedy-Greened team discuss their ideas to green a street and reeve 545,000 gallons of storm water from the system each year. (Whitney Pipkin/Chesapeake Bay Journal)George Hawkins, general manager of DC Water, and DC Mayor Vincent Gray award trophies to the seven team winners of the Green Infrastructure Challenge. (Whitney Pipkin/Chesapeake Bay Journal)Mayor Gray has said that DC Water general manager George Hawkins, pictured, is among the most enthusiastic public servants he's ever known.  (Whitney Pipkin/Chesapeake Bay Journal)

Seven proposals to creatively reduce stormwater runoff in spaces throughout the District of Columbia were named winners in DC Water’s Green Infrastructure Challenge last week.

The projects included ideas to install “blue roofs” on a strip of historic Georgetown buildings or use inverted café umbrellas to collect and filter rainwater. One project would put underused triangular park spaces in the District to work as green water filtration systems and another would do the same for alleyways, curbsides and tree boxes.

All seven finalists now have the opportunity to submit responses to a request for proposal that will be issued shortly. One or more of the seven finalists' projects will be fully designed and constructed with funds from DC Water, which will award more than $1 million total to the projects.

George Hawkins, general manager for DC Water, said projects like these are an emerging piece of the District’s overarching plan for reducing combined sewer overflows. DC Water is still “on time and on budget,” Hawkins said, with its $1.6 billion tunnels project to create an underground system that can store polluted stormwater runoff that the existing system cannot handle.

The opportunity for investing in green infrastructure like innovative stormwater controls, Hawkins added, goes hand-in-hand with these tunnel projects. Green projects above ground could help reduce the load on unconstructed portions of the massive tunnel project currently underway.

“We are about to invest more than $1 billion in this city for solutions that will last (another) hundred years,” Hawkins said. “We want to be absolutely sure we get it right.”

One way DC Water is making sure it’s “at the forefront of what’s possible anywhere” is by reaching out to the private sector for ideas. That’s what fueled the Green Infrastructure Challenge and other contests like it in the region (which Leslie Middleton recently wrote about for the Bay Journal).

Chris Earley, a principal at Richmond-based Greening Urban, LLC and team member of two finalist projects, said it’s pretty rare in to see a local government and mayor as supportive of these projects as DC Water and Mayor Vincent Gray have been.

“Sometimes a problem like the Chesapeake Bay and a combined sewer overflow drives good things. It’s a curse and a blessing,” Earley said.

He’s glad to see the District pursuing a more hybrid approach that incorporates smaller green projects as well as massive undertakings like building the tunnels. 

“I think it’s intelligent of the city to say, ‘Let’s do a serious study of how we can get a load off of that infrastructure by doing more green infrastructure,” Earley said.

Mayor Gray made an appearance at the awards ceremony, lauding Hawkins and DC Water for taking “some of the greatest steps to date towards achieving this goal” of reducing stormwater runoff and making the city more sustainable.

View the winning projects and read more about them at dcwater.com/greenchallenge. Read more about the city’s Clean Rivers Project and the tunnels it’s building at dcwater.com/cleanrivers.

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About Whitney Pipkin
Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. Her work for the Bay Journal often focuses on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and she is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Whitney Pipkin

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