For decades, three Virginia cities along the James and Potomac rivers have been pouring money into efforts to halt the flow of sewage into the waterways during heavy rainstorms and flooding.
Now, flush with $4.3 billion in American Relief Plan Act cash, the state has what Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Director Peggy Sanner called “a $50 million plug” for Richmond’s problems. Another $50 million plug is earmarked for Alexandria, with a smaller $25 million one destined for Lynchburg, 100 miles upstream of Richmond.
When combined with local matching funds, the money is enough to finish off the fixes to Lynchburg’s infrastructure needed to stop the flow of sewage into the James by 2026, said Timothy Mitchell, the city’s director of water resources.
“Without the funding, from now it would be another 10 to 15 years” to complete the work, he said.
. . .
“In order to advance the timeline, we need substantial state assistance,” Ron Jordan, a lobbyist for the city, told a Senate committee. “And we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars here.”
This July, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney struck a similar note during a press conference following Northam’s proposal to put $50 million toward Richmond’s efforts.
“Consider that our entire general fund city budget last year was $770 million and you will have an idea of the scale of this challenge that we have ahead,” said Stoney. “So the question is, ‘How do we get there?’ And the answer to this very big bill is very simple. We as the city of Richmond can’t do it alone. Without financial assistance from the federal and state government, Richmond wastewater utility rates will skyrocket.”
The problem in all three cities stems from a form of 19-century infrastructure known as the combined sewer overflow system. In a combined sewer system, stormwater and wastewater flow through the same pipes. Under normal conditions, this runoff is directed to a wastewater treatment plant. But when precipitation is heavy, the system quickly becomes overwhelmed, sending both stormwater and untreated sewage into the river at overflow points.
It still pisses me off that so far, cities are allowed to dump their sewage into the rivers and Bay, and take their sweet time about fixing it, because their too cheap to tax their own citizens to raise the money to fix it. Why spread the costs out over the whole damn country, when they have their own issues to contend with?