Bringing Clean Air Back to C&O Canal

Minutes from noisy, urban areas of metropolitan Washington, the C&O Canal National Park is an oasis of nature that attracts 4.7 million visitors from the Washington region and elsewhere yearly, but suffocating sewer odors during the summer have often ruined the experience for many. A multimillion dollar project is bringing clean air back to the parkland.

Beneath pleasant scenes at Fletcher's Boathouse and elsewhere, a massive 1960s sewer carries 50 million gallons of raw sewage per day from as far away as Dulles International Airport. Old sewer vents allowed an unpleasant smell to escape.

“I'd be hit with this massive odor, and then it would go away and a quarter of a mile later it would come up again,” said Mac Thornton, of Potomac Conservancy.

Tuesday, the U.S. Park Service, D.C. Water and relieved citizens formally opened the first of six new high-tech odor scrubbers. They replace sewer vents to clean more than 90 percent of the odors, D.C. Water's George Hawkins said.

Citizens breathed freely Tuesday after fighting the odors for almost 15 years.

“I put my window down instead of putting it up and I could smell honeysuckle,” C&O Canal Superintendent Kevin Brandt said, “and I think that’s the first time I’ve smelled honeysuckle at the Chain Bridge intersection.”

Follow Tom Sherwood on Twitter at @TomSherwood

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