The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) is the owner of the majority of the miles and miles of water and sewer lines traversing the earth beneath us in Montgomery County. While this critical infrastructure brings us treated water for drinking, cooking, and bathing and removes wastewater from our homes and businesses, it is aging, and as such its contents can become sources of pollution.
With much of WSSC’s water mains being at least 50 years old, breaks in the pipes are both unavoidable and unpredictable. When a water line breaks, chlorinated water gushes from the pipe, picking up sediment that then enters storm drains, creeks, wetlands, and ponds. The sediment shows up in water bodies as orange or brown plumes.
If you see water bubbling from the ground (usually near a sidewalk, street, or building), it might be a water main break. If you smell an out-of-place foul odor or observe grey water being discharged, it may be a sewer line leak. You can help by contacting WSSC to ensure they are aware of the issue. You can also contact Parks if you see sediment-laden water running into storm drains or entering streams.
Urban streams are highly susceptible to sewage pollution due to their proximity to sewer lines. As sewage systems flow using gravity, historically the sewer mains were installed at the lowest points in the landscape beside streams or rivers.
WSSC works throughout Montgomery County to perform sewer repairs and maintenance to address aging sewer infrastructure and protect existing assets and has developed a multi-year program called The Sewer Repair, Replacement, and Rehabilitation (SR3) Program. These projects may cause a minor inconvenience to Park users while in progress but will improve the condition of the wastewater collection system assets and improve surface water quality.
The SR3 Program is the result of a Consent Decree entered into by WSSC, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), and four (4) local citizens’ groups. Under the leadership of the Pipeline Design Division of the Engineering and Construction Team, WSSC is working to repair and replace parts of the sewer system to restore pipe and manhole conditions. With these improvements, less groundwater will infiltrate into pipes through cracks. As a result, there will be fewer sewer overflows into our waterways, which will enhance the protection of both public health and the environment while improving service to WSSC’s customers. Repair work may include pipelining, relocation, or replacement; replacing manhole frames and covers; grouting manholes; and other types of repairs. Exposed sewer assets in streams are also being protected by restoring stream beds. The net effect of these changes will be improvements to water resources and updated infrastructure that will serve WSSC’s customers for many years to come.
Most projects to improve the condition of WSSC sewer assets and water quality in our streams will be in the stream valley units and adjacent areas. Please use caution when using park trails and avoid designated work areas, as heavy vehicles and equipment may require the use of trails and park accessways to enter work sites. A list of active projects in the Parks systems is available for viewing in the top-right column of this page.
For additional information on these and other projects in the Parks, please contact Montgomery Parks.