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Multi-Year Plan to Re-Water the C&O Canal
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C&O Sup't Unveils Multi-Year Plan to Re-Water the Canal –  

   On Friday, 3 Nov at Potomac, Md, Nat’l Historic Park (NHP) Superintendent Kevin Brandt addressed some 50 guests of the Friends of the Great Falls Tavern on a multi-million project to re-water the 22 miles of the Canal from Georgetown to Violettes Lock.  He has been at the C&O NHP for 19 years, far more than the average 2 to 3 years to rotate through that position, and he’s clearly steeped in Canal information and lore. 

      The project is to de-silt the Canal, digging it out and replacing the old clay “prism,” installing new lock-gates where needed, then refilling it and if possible allowing small electric launches to ply its length. The project would take three years and start from Great Falls up to Violettes and then from Great Falls down to Georgetown.  Already work on fixing Lock 4 (the last in the steep Georgetown lift from Rock Creek) and completely dismantling and reconstructing the immediately-lower Lock 3 is 70% done (cost $3.5 mn), but the Park has said that the long stretch above it (allowing Little Falls boaters to paddle back to their cars) won't be re-watered until 2019.

    At Fletchers Landing, an access road to the big parking lot that will leap over Canal Road and the Canal is contemplated. From Lock 5 through 20 (including the steep Seven-Locks and Six-Locks sections) up to Great Falls Tavern, an extraordinary amount of work must happen – and where one must conclude most of the time, money and tow-path closure will occur. 

    And in this section is yet another major problem: the 6 to 9 foot diameter “UPI” or Upper Potomac Interceptor/Dulles Airport Sewer, that odoriferous pipe running beside and underneath the Canal. It crosses the Potomac at Great Falls (at the Aqueduct Dam. It needs to be totally replaced, which will disrupt everything, including Canal boat operations at Great Falls. As a result, it will be dry-docked all next year and beyond. The 900 yd “Log Wall” (all stone) just up from Carderock is bulging; only a light detector check will tell if it’s stable. If not – up goes the cost exponentially while it’s rebuilt and the UPI re-situated.  Take a walk up there (Mile 11, up from the farthest Carderock parking lot) and figure out how you would get excavation machinery and trucks to work along the narrow and precipitous towpath.  

     Up from the Great Falls Tavern the already watered reach to Swains Lock (21), the next to Pennyfield Lock (22), and Violettes Lock (23) are long (7 miles total) and presumably far easier to bring up to 1830s standards. Most of the photos shown were of the culverts under the Canal that need rehab. At the top end of the close-in section the NHP will take possession of the sawmill ruin just above Rileys Lock (24) that fashioned the red Seneca sandstone gracing many a Canal lock as well as the Smithsonian Castle. One could imagine putting it back into business to deal with all the pending rock-work.

   Upstream from that, the NHP is now rehabbing the Conococheague Aqueduct whose side was blown out in the 1920 Flood so barges can cross it once again, and above that at Upper Big Slackwater on up to Lock 42 starting in 2020 the towpath will be raised above (ordinary) floods - $11.5 mn more.  Rock scaling and refastening is now going on at the downstream end of the Paw Paw Tunnel – $800 k to do that.

     While we couldn’t make out the total cost of these projects, one can see that they will be spread over many years – meaning the possibility, nay, on past form, likelihood of their being under way for an extended time. The CCA hopes to be able to work with the NHP, suggesting how it may minimize the impact of this restoration project on boaters moving up the Canal and crossing it to our home river as well.

   Please send your observations and suggestions to to help guide us in this effort.

Alf Cooley – CCA Access Committee - 11 Nov 2017

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