By Vernon Miles, Alexandria Gazette

May 19, 2016

This story was originally featured in the Alexandria Gazette.

On the surface, the nearly completed park near the east end of Eisenhower Avenue looks like any soccer field. It’s currently soggy and unusable, given the recent rain and some leakage issues, but by June, it should be operational and open to the public. What those playing on the field may not know is that they’re actually standing over 18 million gallons of nitrogen and phosphorous removed from the local water supply.

The field will be run by the city, but the facility it sits ontop of is part of AlexRenew. Alexandria Renew Enterprises, or AlexRenew, is a water resource recovery public utility. In essence, AlexRenew is a sewage treatment plant, a title CEO Karen Pallansch says years of branding has tried to change but nothing has quite stuck.

“If you make it dirty,” Pallansch said, “we have to make it clean.”

The facility takes water from parts of Fairfax County and all of Alexandria except Fairlington.

One of the biggest problems the system faces, and one they hope to reduce via public outreach, is harmful substances being flushed into toilets or down kitchen sinks. Baby wipes, medicine, and grease are three of the most common offenders. Each year, it costs AlexRenew between $50,000 to $150,000 to remove the material from the water, and $200,000 to safely dispose of it. But the treatment facility has other reasons for keeping the material out. The facility is using an experimental new “bug” brought over from Europe that more efficiently draws the waste material out of the water. However, the new bugs have a more sensitive Ph. level, meaning they have to be maintained in a careful condition that non-approved substances could throw out of balance.

In celebration of infrastructure week, Pallansch led a group of local officials and community members through their facilities.

“I was impressed,” said Del. Mark Levine. “Knowing what you’re doing here is a highlight of Alexandria. This is really at the forefront in the Commonwealth.”