Press Club

Keep Avoiding Donaldson Run Due to Sewage Spill, County Says

(Updated at 11:10 p.m.) Multiple sewage leaks have led Arlington County staff to warn residents to continue avoiding contact with water from Donaldson Run near and downstream from the pedestrian bridge above Military Road.

A sewage pipe running through Donaldson Run broke on Saturday, causing a sewage spill of 4,500 gallons, Arlington County spokeswoman Meghan McMahon said. Since fixing the initial break, the county has found two additional leaks.

The second leak, found on Monday, released 9,000 gallons of sewage, and the county does not yet know how much the third one — found today — has leaked, McMahon said.

Signs about the sewage are currently posted along and at entrances of the Donaldson Run trail.

“There has been a sewage release to the stream. As a precaution, please avoid contact with stream water,” according to the signs.

Arlington County also sent out two Arlington Alerts, one to notify residents of the sewage leak advisory on July 11 and a second one today (July 14) to let people know it was still in place. The advisory will be in place for several more days, McMahon said.

“Crews are working now to setup a bypass so they can completely replace the pipe in this area. Crews are working as fast as they can, but this replacement will likely take a few days,” McMahon said.

The advisory warns people and their pets to avoid any contact with the stream.

“The public is advised to stay away from the affected water and to keep children and pets away until further notice, to eliminate the risk of exposure to raw sewage in the stream. People should not fish in the stream or have any contact with the water — including wading or swimming — until further notice from the County,” according to the advisory.

The county decided to replace the entire pipe in Donaldson Run now instead of later, as planned, because of the short period of time between the three leaks, she said.

“Replacing the pipe is the best way to prevent future spills,” McMahon said. “Arlington also has sanitary sewer maintenance programs including flushing, TV camera inspection and re-lining efforts.”

The breaks in the pipe were all the result of the casing around it shifting from water erosion, which is common in older pipes like many in Arlington, she said.

“Sanitary sewer lines are common in stream valleys (the lowest point of the stream) and sanitary sewer breaks are common in urban communities like Arlington, which have older pipes and infrastructure,” McMahon noted.

When a leak happens, the county will allow nature to flush out the sewage over time. This usually takes about three to five days. The county does not consider flushing streams out with chlorine — which kills everything in the stream — to be an option, McMahon said.

“Many Arlington streams are in County parks where residents are free to walk along the stream valleys, but the stream water can contain microorganisms that can make people sick, regardless of the stream location,” McMahon said.

In order to stay safe around stream water, even uncontaminated water, residents should always wash hands after touching the water, avoid getting water in their mouths or eyes, only wade in the water instead of swimming or bathing and never drink the stream water, McMahon said.

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