Region Forward Blog

Karen Pallansch: Making sustainability a priority in the wastewater sector

Feb 2, 2017

Field over the Nutrient Management Facility (Photo © Eric Taylor,  

Traditionally, the only color wastewater utilities wanted to be associated with was “clear.” But Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew), wastewater utility to the City of Alexandria and parts of Fairfax County, and a member of the Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources Policy Committee at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) has made greening wastewater cleaning one of its highest priorities.

AlexRenew transforms 35 million gallons of dirty water daily, which takes a large amount of energy – about 3,000 times more energy than powering the average home. With numbers like these, you can see how sustainability measures at AlexRenew can lead to big environmental improvements and more stable rates for our customers.

AlexRenew is working to integrate sustainability principles like energy efficiency into every business process — from procurement to infrastructure design.

In 2016, AlexRenew completed major construction on our Nutrient Management Facility (NMF). In December, the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure honored the NMF with an Envision Platinum Award — the first in Virginia and the D.C. metro area and also the first for a U.S. water resource recovery facility. Envision is a tool used for planning, designing, and rating all types of sustainable infrastructure projects—much like the LEED program is used to assess buildings.

From beginning to end, sustainability was a key focus of the NMF. The 18-million-gallon facility reduces the amount of energy and chemicals needed to clean water and ultimately helps decrease the amount of nitrogen released back into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Uniquely, the NMF is also topped with a multipurpose athletic field that adds community green space. 

During construction of the NMF, we also:

  • Removed 85,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and restored a former landfill
  • Planted more than 1,000 native trees and shrubs and expanded an adjacent streamside buffer by 69,000 square feet
  • Installed sustainable stormwater practices
  • Recycled 85 percent of demolition and construction waste
  • Used 21 percent recycled material and at least 90 percent regional material
  • Installed energy and water monitoring systems
  • Built connections to future trails and green space

By definition, water resource recovery facilities are focused on sustainability, protecting area waterways on a daily basis. In 2016, AlexRenew and partners in the region met a key nutrient reduction milestone for protecting the Chesapeake Bay 10 years ahead of schedule due largely to upgrades, like the NMF, by the region’s wastewater facilities. 

Yet with tools like Envision, we can make an already green industry even more sustainable. By using resources efficiently, maintaining stable rates for our customers, and using every opportunity to create a more vibrant community, we are transforming water to transform our communities.

Karen Pallansch is the CEO of AlexRenew. As a member of COG’s Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources Policy Committee (CBPC), AlexRenew joins metropolitan Washington area governments and utilities in providing input about the EPA/Chesapeake Bay Program’s work and policies and addressing the many interconnected water resource challenges facing the region.

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