Press Club
Tap water in Arlington (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Residents of Arlington, D.C. and part of Fairfax County will notice a different taste to their tap water today.

The Washington Aqueduct, from which our tap water is pumped across the Potomac and throughout Arlington, is starting its annual spring pipe cleaning today. The seasonal switch in the disinfectant used by the aqueduct will run through May 16.

During that time, residents will likely notice that their water smells and tastes a bit more like a swimming pool. That’s because chlorine will be used as the disinfectant rather than chloramine, which is used during all other times of the year.

The change does not affect water safety, officials say.

More from a recent Arlington County press release:

Arlington County, the District of Columbia and northeastern Fairfax County will clean out their tap water networks starting Monday, March 21, repeating a safe, annual process.

Service will continue uninterrupted during the procedure, which runs through May 16. During that time, drinking water from the tap may taste slightly different but the water is essentially unchanged thanks to the purification process.

Arlington and nearby jurisdictions receive their water from the Washington Aqueduct, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In an industry-standard practice, the Corps temporarily switches its system disinfectant from chloramine to chlorine to help clean pipes and maintain system flow.

The Aqueduct continues to add a corrosion inhibitor during the process to reduce the potential release of lead in regional system pipes.

During the spring cleaning, local water authorities continually monitor drinking water for safe chlorine levels as well as conduct system-wide flushing to enhance water quality. Residents may see open fire hydrants as part of the routine.

What to expect

  • This temporary cleaning can bring with it a slightly noticeable chlorine smell and taste to tap water. In response, customers can run the cold water tap for about two minutes before using, employ a filter system or let the water sit in a container for an hour or two to allow the chlorine smell and taste to dissipate.
  • Customers who take special precautions to remove chloramine from tap water during the rest of the year should continue such methods during the temporary switch to chlorine. As always, those with special concerns should consult their health care provider.

The region’s drinking water continues to meet or exceed all safety standards established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Virginia Department of Health.

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Map showing site of water main project (via Arlington County)

The Arlington County Board is set to approve a contract for a new water main.

The new main will serve the Fort Myer Heights neighborhood, near Rosslyn, and will run under the N. Rhodes Street bridge over Route 50.

“This contract is for the construction of a 12-inch watermain between 14th Street North and North Queen Street,” notes a county staff report. “This contract includes approximately 230 feet of 12-inch ductile iron pipe suspended under the North Rhodes Street / Arlington Boulevard overpass Bridge. The proposed water main will provide system redundancy and improved pressure in the neighborhood.”

At its meeting tomorrow (Saturday), the Board will consider a $1.14 million contract, plus an approximate $230,000 contingency, with Alexandria-based contractor Sagres Construction Corporation.

The new main will replace a smaller pipe that broke and has not been returned to service.

“The Fort Myer Heights Watermain Improvement project is part of the effort to interconnect water supply systems to ensure redundancy,” says the county staff report. “The old 6″ watermain under Route 50 that connected the two sides of the Fort Myer Height’s neighborhood was isolated and abandoned in place after a water main break. The proposed 12″ watermain will interconnect the two sides of the neighborhood and thereby provide the essential redundancy and improved water pressure.”

Residents in the area can expect some temporary traffic and water disruptions during the project. A construction timeline was not given.

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Arlington County plans to dredge stretches of the Four Mile Run and lower Long Branch Creek channels to alleviate potential flooding.

The project targets sections of the waterways near Mt. Vernon Avenue, bordering the City of Alexandria, where U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) determined soil deposit levels were “unacceptable” for stormwater management.

The Arlington County Board is slated to review the project this Saturday.

The USACE inspection determined the channel had “excessive shoaling” due to shallow water depths. Dredging the soil deposits will address this shoaling and ensure the channel can handle large, once-in-a-century floods, the county says.

As part of the project, erosion damage and degraded stream conditions will also be repaired and debris and vegetation will be cleared. Construction is slated to begin in September and last until February, according to a project webpage.

The maintenance work “addresses maintenance of the Four Mile Run streambed that is required by the USACE, would help alleviate flooding along the Long Branch Tributary and would not significantly change any facilities, program or services provided to the community,” per a county report.

The entire project will take four to six months, Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Aileen Winquest tells ARLnow. For one month, while work on the Lower Long Branch channel takes place, some access to Troy Park will be limited.

“While the dredging work in Lower Long Branch is underway, there will be a small area at the end of Troy Park (closest to Glebe Road) that will be closed because it will be used for accessing the stream,” Winquist said. “There will be parking restrictions near that end of the park. The majority of the park will remain open and accessible.”

There will be a public meeting about the project in May, she said.

Arlington and the City of Alexandria worked with the USACE to design and build a flood-control channel in this portion of Four Mile Run — not far from where the creek meets the Potomac River — in response to repeated flooding that began in the 1940s. The channel, dubbed the Four Mile Run East and West Levee System, was built between 1974 and 1984. USACE inspects the levee every year to see how well it’s being maintained.

Arlington County will pay for the $5 million project and will receive partial reimbursement from the City of Alexandria, leaving the county on the hook for $2.88 million.

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Water pipe / infrastructure work (file photo)

Update at 5 p.m. — Water service has been restored ahead of schedule, county officials say.

Earlier: A western portion of Arlington County has lost water pressure due to a broken valve, leaving a couple thousand water customers high and dry.

Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services announced around 12:45 p.m. that a part of the county that receives water from Fairfax County’s system has had its service impacted by a broken valve.

“Engineers are working on repairs,” DES said in a tweet. “Estimated time for completed repairs/return of full water pressure: 6 p.m. Willston customers are asked to conserve water.”

Willston refers to the name of the water system within Arlington, comprising about 2% of the county’s population in the Dominion Hills and Boulevard Manor neighborhoods.

“The Willston Area system is located on the western edge of Arlington County along Wilson Boulevard,” notes the county’s water distribution plan. “The water provided in the Willston Area system is treated at both the Dalecarlia and McMillian WTPs, flows through the Fairfax Water system, and then into the Willston Area.”

DES noted that Fairfax County is performing the repairs, although Arlington generally maintains the pipes.

Thanks to quirks in geography and the development of local infrastructure, Arlington and Fairfax County’s water systems each serve some of each other’s customers under a recently-updated agreement.

The agreement also sought to provide redundancy for each water system through a new transmission main. Arlington County’s primary system and the Willson water system both get their water solely from the Washington Aqueduct, across the river, whereas Fairfax’s system uses two of its own water treatment plants along the Potomac and Occoquan rivers.

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Some overnight water valve work in the Buckingham neighborhood near Ballston went seriously wrong, but luckily no one was hurt.

The photos above tell the story: a county dump truck somehow rolled into a large hole that was cut in the road to allow the water infrastructure work, near the intersection of N. Pershing Drive and 2nd Street N.

“We can confirm that no one was injured when a Water, Sewer, Streets vehicle accidentally ended up in one of the road surface openings created this week for overnight water valve replacements in the neighborhood,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin told ARLnow this morning. “A thorough review of safety and operational protocols is already under way.”

Officials are hopeful the truck, which has since been removed from its precarious position, will only need minor repairs.

“Initial inspection appears to indicate no major damage to the truck but we’ll know more once it’s towed to the County’s Equipment Shop,” Golkin said.

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Work began yesterday (Wednesday) on the long-delayed Ballston Beaver Pond remediation project — but no busy beavers will be involved.

The $4.2 million, 18-month project approved by the County Board this summer will retrofit the pond, originally built in 1980 to collect stormwater runoff from I-66. Today, sediment in the pond prevents detention, and it instead has become home to abundant wildlife, including beavers, according to a county report.

The project, expected to wrap up in July 2023, aims to improve stormwater retention and the wildlife habitat by restoring native plant species and adding habitat features. There will be a new observation platform with educational signage, seating and a reconstructed trail with bike racks.

Arlington County says the new two-acre wetland area will provide stormwater treatment to 460 acres of land in the Lubber Run watershed, and “is among the County’s most effective opportunities to achieve its water quality objectives and meet its regulatory requirements.”

This month, the construction contractor will be setting up the site, county project manager Aileen Winquist tells ARLnow. Excavation will begin next year.

“From now until the end of the year, neighbors will see the contractor bringing in equipment and setting up the boundaries of the construction area,” she said. “In the new year, neighbors will begin to see dump trucks full of sediment removed from the pond leaving the site.”

Public access will be limited as well. The grass area within the park will be off-limits, as it will be used for construction. A bike and pedestrian detour will reroute trail users from Washington Blvd to the Custis Trail and along the south side of the pond.

The detour will be in place for the entirety of construction, Winquist says.

A bicycle detour around the Ballston Beaver Pond construction project (via Arlington County)

The project is divided into a few phases, as work can only occur on one half of the pond at a time, Winquist said.

First, workers will remove sediment from and re-grade a half of the pond while removing invasive plants.

After the second half of the pond receives the same treatment, construction will begin on a new observation platform, trail upgrades, native species planting and new habitat features, including basking stations for turtles, she said.

The project is a long time in coming.

After community engagement in 2011-12, the project was paused in 2013 until the necessary easements were obtained from property owners. A redesigned project with new permits went to the public in January 2019, but “COVID-19 and related budget concerns” again delayed the project, the report says.

Still, those nearby welcome the pond redo, according to the report.

“The community continues to be very supportive of the project and it is highly anticipated by Ballston area residents and businesses,” it said.

But once beaver baffles are installed to discourage these critters from returning — and damming the pond again, which could compromise water quality — the wetland area will need a new name.

“This beautiful natural area needs a name that fits its unique space,” says Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Martha Holland.

Next year, the county plans to ask the community for name ideas and provide an opportunity to comment on a list of potential names.

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Jamestown Elementary School (file photo)

(Updated at 10:25 a.m.) Jamestown Elementary School is having an early dismissal today due to a “significant water leak.”

The announcement was made in an email to families.

“There is a significant water leak at Jamestown Elementary which requires us to close school early,” the school’s principal wrote. “Students will have early release at 1:00 PM so that the county can shut down the water. Lunch will be served to all students before they leave.”

“There will be NO Extended Day,” the email continued. “I apologize for the inconvenience and will keep you updated on repairs and plans for tomorrow.”

Jamestown, the northernmost public school in Arlington, was built in 1953.

Following the school’s announcement, a social media post from Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services said there is a water main break at or near the school and that some homes in the area may also be affected.

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Morning Notes

Structure Fire Near Ballston — “Units located a detached structure on fire behind a house with minor extension to the house. The fire was quickly extinguished with no reports of injuries to firefighters or civilians. The fire remains under investigation by the Fire Marshal’s Office.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Plane Runs Off DCA Runway — “A Frontier Airlines plane slid off the end of the runway at Reagan National Airport Friday night. Flight 538 from Denver was arriving at the airport at about 10:30 p.m. when the incident happened, Micah Lillard of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said.” [WTOP]

Apparent Drowning in Potomac — “Several agencies said they called off a search for a swimmer in the Potomac River near Fletcher’s Boathouse Sunday. D.C. Fire and EMS called the situation an apparent drowning… Shortly after 3 p.m., a witness reported seeing a person try to swim the river from the Virginia side and not resurface, the fire department said. D.C. Police fire boats and units from the Harbor station, Arlington Fire Department boats and a Maryland State Police helicopter were assisting in the search.” [NBC 4, Twitter]

Arlington Ridge Water Work — From the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services: “Monday night – Tuesday morning: Water main maintenance work near S Arlington Ridge Road/Long Branch Creek could cause temporary low water pressure or service outages for nearby customers, 8pm to 8am.” [Twitter]

Sheriff Supports New Police Chief — From Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur: “Today, more than ever, police chiefs must commit to the principles of trust, accountability and transparency. I believe Andy [Penn] has demonstrated leadership in each of these areas and I look forward serving the Arlington community alongside him in his new role.” [Arlington County]

Mixed-Use Tower in Ballston for Sale — “The owners of Ballston’s tallest building are exploring its sale. Brandywine Realty Trust (NYSE: BDN) and the Shooshan Co., the developers behind 4040 Wilson Blvd., the final phase of the larger Liberty Center project, have put the $217 million tower on the market. The 23-story, 250-foot-tall building, completed last year, includes 225,000 square feet of office on the lower 10 floors topped by 250 apartments.” [Washington Business Journal]

Beyer Supports Fusion Power Research — “”If we do not pursue fusion energy, others will, and U.S. economic interests and influence will diminish as a result,” writes @RepDonBeyer in @sciam, arguing this energy tech can help the climate emergency and create #trillions of $$$ in economic growth.” [Twitter, Scientific American]

Newspaper Editor Attacked by Cicadas — From Sun Gazette Editor Scott McCaffrey’s blog: “The cicadas largely have left me alone, although two did get on my pants over the weekend and surreptitiously made it into Casa de Scotty… I gently removed those buggies and deposited them back outside so they could continue their search for love in what little time they have left on this earth. But yesterday, taking a midday walk around Falls Church, a more aggressive cicada flew right into the back of my shirt and started wriggling his (or her) way deeper in.” [Sun Gazette]

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Arlington County is planning to buy a vacant home in East Falls Church that was damaged in the July 2019 flash flooding.

The county intends to demolish the home at 6415 24th Street N. and use the property to make improvements “that would help alleviate or reduce the severity of localized flooding,” Stormwater Communications Manager Aileen Winquist tells ARLnow.

The county acknowledged it doesn’t have to buy the property to make the upgrades, but these kinds of purchases could give it flexibility with solutions.

After the July deluge, county staff evaluated flood-prone areas to find properties that the county could buy and use for stormwater infrastructure improvements, according to a staff report. This property, valued at $683,800, is one of the four high-priority locations that the county identified.

“The agreement is the first negotiated acquisition to be considered by the County Board as part of this program,” the report said.

The County Board is slated to approve the purchase from the home’s owners during its meeting this Saturday.

Winquist said the locations of the three other properties, whose owners were currently not interested in selling, are available via a public records request.

The Department of Environmental Services has not yet settled on the mitigation approach it will take on the 24th Street N. property, which has not been repaired since the flooding, Winquist said.

“The County is still analyzing projects to reduce flood risk in this watershed, which may include upgrading that section of pipe or storm drain,” she said. “The County is exploring the use of this property for infrastructure, detention, or overland relief as part of a larger-scale solution.”

During the 2019 storm, some nearby homes in the neighborhood experienced flooding, “but not to the extent of this property,” Winquist said.

The county will demolish the structure starting at least six months after the sale, expecting to spend some $200,000 to $250,000 to do so. The sellers plan to allow the nonprofit Second Chance to salvage materials from the home ahead of demolition.

Property owners can contact the county to have their property considered for the program, but the county will have to consider such acquisitions carefully given the complexity of the flood mitigation solutions, Winquist said.

Although voters approved a $50.8 million bond in November for various stormwater projects, the county said the money for the property purchase wouldn’t come from that.

Photo (3) via Google Maps

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Responding to increasing storms, flooding and ongoing development, Arlington County will be changing its stormwater management regulations for single-family home construction projects.

The new requirements — and how they came about — have developers worried.

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services will require developers to use tools such as water storage tanks to ensure new homes can retain at least 3 inches of rain, which will affect applications submitted after Sept. 13, 2021.

Currently, developers are only on the hook to improve the quality of water runoff, using rain gardens, planters, permeable driveways and tree cover.

DES staff tell ARLnow the new system will manage more water, protect downhill properties, reduce plan approval times, and give homeowners stormwater facilities that are feasible to maintain.

In a statement, staff said the change “reflects future-focused and balanced responsiveness to a diverse customer base that includes downhill neighbors, property owners, and builders.”

But some developers who work in Arlington County says the changes blindsided them and they want more input. They predict significant potential cost increases to homeowners and argue that this shifts the burden onto individuals, rather than placing responsibility with neighborhoods or the county itself.

“There is broad concern with the roll-out of this,” said Yuri Sagatov of Sagatov Homes. “There are just a lot of questions and there aren’t a lot of answers. We’re all waiting to get more information from the county to see how the changes might impact properties.”

Staff said these changes were precipitated by the increase in heavy rainfall, the growing intensity of storms, and a sense among residents that the county is not doing enough to protect properties — particularly those that are downhill from development, from the runoff caused by new homes.

A county study last summer found that the soil under new homes is 10 times less permeable than the soil under existing homes, staff said.

With the tanks, which appear to be above ground in photos, the goal is to retain rainwater during flash flooding events like that of July 8, 2019.

“Gravity detention tanks… promote a ‘slow it down and soak it in’ strategy to capture and release runoff slowly as a more robust and reliable way to handle intense rainfall,” says a DES memo.

It seems like a feasible alternative to more expensive underground systems, but the challenge will be blending them in aesthetically.

“They are talking about massive above ground cisterns,” the owner of one remodeling firm told ARLnow. “I would think neighbors would hate this. They’re going to be hideous.”

As for engaging developers during the process, county staff said enhancements to an existing program only require the county to consult with stakeholders. The county surveyed neighbors, home builders and engineers in 2019 and met with engineers early this year.

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It’s almost that time of year again: the time when your tap water starts to smell a bit like a swimming pool.

A week from today — on Monday, April 5 — the disinfectant used in Arlington County’s drinking water will be temporarily switched from chloramine to chlorine. The annual spring cleaning will run through May 17, with the goal of improving the condition of the pipes in the county’s water distribution system.

Arlington gets its water from the Washington Aqueduct in D.C., which also serves the District and a portion of Fairfax County.

More from a county press release:

The District of Columbia, Arlington County and the northeastern Fairfax County will clean out their tap water network starting Monday — a safe, annual process. Water service continues uninterrupted during the process, which runs from April 5 through May 17. During that time, drinking water may smell or taste slightly different.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Washington Aqueduct, water supplier to these regions, performs the temporary disinfectant switch from chloramine to chlorine to allow local water authorities to clean the pipes and maintain water flow. Washington Aqueduct continues to add a corrosion inhibitor during the process to reduce the potential for release of lead in system pipes.

Local water authorities will continually monitor the drinking water for safe chlorine levels as well as conduct system-wide flushing to enhance water quality. At the same time, water utilities will systematically flush fire hydrants by opening them up to release stagnant water and allowing fresh water to flow through the system. Crews operating hydrants in this manner are a normal part of this routine. This process is repeated nearly every spring, in this region and across the nation.

This temporary cleaning often adds a new smell or taste to tap water. If customers opt, they can run the cold water tap for about two minutes, then use a water filter or allow water to sit in a container in the refrigerator to remove chlorine taste and odor.

Customers who take special precautions to remove chloramine from tap water should continue such methods during the temporary switch to chlorine. As always, those with special concerns should consult their health care provider.

Washington Aqueduct is the wholesale water supplier for the District of Columbia, Arlington and northeastern Fairfax County.

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