From a reader: “Hi ToT! Just curious if you know what happens when you flush the toilet. I mean, where does it all go? Does the city do anything ‘green’ with the brown stuff and recycle it? Couldn’t they just do soemthing with it and make electricity using a big underground system of pumps and turbines? If this city is going to move forward, we need to get smart about how we reuse sewage, and it just makes sense to turn it into electricity!”
Good question! I reached out to the folks at the DC Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), and they gave the Titan a personal tour of one of the local sewage pumping stations. It turns out, they do exactly what you describe!
Since DC has a lot of differing elevations, DC’s sewer infrastructure is setup to collect sewage at certain points around town and pump it to the main treatment plant at Blue Plains. Just like the water system, the sewer system stores water at certian points and then pumps it. The highly-efficient pumps are nearly 100 years old but are actually able to run so efficiently due to the effects of gravity and regeneration. They can power smaller turbines to generate enough electricity on most days to run the treatment plant! That’s being green (or brown)! Awesome!
Here are a few photos shared with us of the older part of one of the old sewage treatment pumping stations, which is colocated at the end of the O Street Pumping Station near Navy Yard. For more information on DC Water’s efforts to upgrade the pumping system, it’s on their website.
Unfortunately, DC’s system is very old and cannot handle all the capacity, so there are several “outflow” points along the city’s waterways and are used during periods of heavy rain. But, DC Water is working on a huge project right now to increase the storage capacity of the underground sewage cisterns by building a giant tunnel structure that can store all of the extra water from heavy storms! What do you think? Awesome!