D.C. Water general manager George Hawkins,Vice President Biden and Clean Water Director Carlton Ray discuss the importance of maintaining roads, bridges, ports and other infrastructure Jan. 16.

Vice President Joe Biden and other Obama cabinet officials recently joined D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on a visit to an infrastructure project being built by the city’s water and sewer authority. The Southeast Washington project promises to improve the lives of residents for decades.

Vice President Biden, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.-D) joinedthe mayor on Jan. 16 for a tour of D.C. Water’s Anacostia River Tunnel project located near RFK Stadium on the western banks of the Anacostia River. The Obama administration has made re-building the nation’s infrastructure a priority in the waning years of its tenure, and Biden said that the river tunnel is a model project.

“We are working to make the environment better,” Biden said to a small gathering of city officials and employees of D.C. Water. “Storm water runs into sewers that go into toilets and rivers and pollutes the water. It costs so much money to fix the problem and in some areas of the country the systems are archaic because they were built in the 1800s and out of wood.”

The Anacostia River Tunnel project is a part of D.C. Water’s $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project that should stem the sewer overflows in the District with a goal of improved water quality. D.C. Water’s plan to significantly reduce sewage to the river is to build massive underground tunnels that will store the sewage and runoff during intense rainstorms and then convey the flow to the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant for processing.

The Anacostia River has repeatedly been cited by the EPA and environmental organizations as one of the nation’s most polluted waterways.  Sewage from industries and farms in neighboring Maryland and an antiquated water treatment infrastructure are some of the reasons for the pollution.

D.C. Water has received $210.8 million in federal funding for the project and local ratepayers will pay for the remainder of project cost. Recently, D.C. Water became the first water/wastewater utility in the country to issue century bonds, financial instruments that will mature in 100 years to match the life expectancy of the tunnels and to spread the cost of the project out for generations.

The project is expected to produce nearly 2,500 employment opportunities. Biden said that keeping and recruiting new businesses as well as increasing employment prospects are a byproduct of funding projects like the tunnels.

“If the United States is going to continue to lead the world, we have to have the most modern infrastructure in the world,” the vice president said. “Building the infrastructure attracts businesses and workers to communities.”

Biden said Bowser should be credited for her work as a council member in setting up the public-private nature of the project’s funding. “Issuing the new type of bond is not privatization but collaboration,” he said. “This type of project should be the standard for generations. Here in the United States, three percent of infrastructure projects are the result of public-private partnerships but in Great Britain, 30 percent of its projects are of that type.”

District officials attending the event included City Administrator Rashad Gray, Department of the Environment Acting Director Tommy Wells, and D.C. Water Chief Executive and General Manager George Hawkins. D.C. Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) were present also.

Bowser said that the project should be supported on Capitol Hill without the partisan bickering.

“We look to Congress to make it easier for this new venture to be successful and create conditions that allow us to work with regional partners and neighboring states to rebuild other infrastructure projects like our roads and mass transit system,” the mayor said. “Congress has a responsibility to help move us forward.”

Biden noted that it will take $3.6 trillion to modernize the nation’s infrastructure and that he wants to see the Anacostia project “replicated throughout the nation.”

“America has always built, built, built,” he said. “Let’s get to work and rebuild America.”