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Citizens oppose more effluent in Urbanna Creek

by Tom Chillemi

Comment deadline is Feb. 6

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Opponents who asked for alternatives to discharging treated wastewater into Urbanna Creek made their position known at last week’s public hearing on a proposed Saluda wastewater treatment plant.  (Photo by Tom Chillemi)
During the January 21 public hearing on a wastewater treatment plant proposed for Saluda, citizens asked the State Water Control Board (SWCB) to consider alternatives to dumping treated wastewater into Urbanna Creek.

In 2011, new regulations will require that nearly all of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen be removed from the effluent of treatment plants—a difficult and expensive task. Those two nutrients feed algae that bloom and block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses. When the algae die they use oxygen to the detriment of aquatic life.

Marian Agnew, president of the Center for Environmental Strategy, said nutrient removal is “very hard” to do at a reasonable cost, and a better alternative is reusing the water. “We have got to recycle our wastewater for what it is, a valuable resource . . . we need those nutrients on land.”

Agnew asked the SWCB to deny the permit and that it be resubmitted as a re-use and recycle facility. “This is a time of change and the State Water Control Board needs to do some major changing, and this permit is a very good place to start,” she said.

Middlesex County’s wastewater consultant, Roger Hart of Malcolm Pirnie Inc., said the county has considered re-using treated wastewater on the proposed athletic complex fields at Middlesex High School. “If anybody wants to re-use water we’ll be glad to let you have it, because it will meet the (new re-use) regulations,” said Hart. “The county is spending extra money to put in extra filtration and enhanced disinfection to meet these regulations.”

However, if land application is used, during winter and wet weather the effluent would still be discharged into the creek. Related article: Land application of wastewater utilizes nutrients

Plans call for building a 39,900 gallon-per-day (gpd) wastewater treatment plant about a half-mile east of the Middlesex Courthouse. It would serve the courthouse and county office buildings; Middlesex High School, which has a failing drainfield; a proposed development of 85 homes; and possibly Christchurch School, which currently has its own wastewater treatment plant.

Pump and haul

Buddy Wyker of Urbanna said it would be cheaper to continue to pump and haul the wastewater until a better solution is found.

Curt Linderman, water permit manager for the Piedmont Regional Office of DEQ, said the Virginia Health Department usually prefers pumping and hauling wastewater on a temporary basis for about one year.

Middlesex County has been pumping and hauling wastewater from the courthouse and county offices since June 2003, said Middlesex County Administrator Charlie Culley.

Culley said the drainfield that was installed [at the site of the current courthouse parking lot] failed within 2.5 years of being put into use. The county repaired it, but had to build a parking lot over the drainfield when, under court order, it was forced to build a new courthouse adjacent to the existing one.

Several years ago voters failed to approve a referendum to build the new courthouse at the site of old Rappahannock Central Elementary School at Cooks Corner. Voter referendum approval is required by state law in order to move the site of the courthouse, noted Culley.

Culley said the county offices and court building currently produce 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of wastewater per week. It costs 12 cents per gallon to pump and haul, he said.

At 4,000 gallons per week, the annual cost is about $25,000.

The county also considered building a remote drainfield on sites in Saluda, including 60 acres owned by the regional jail authority, said Culley.

The supervisors and Middlesex Industrial Development Authority (IDA), however, looked at central sewer as a better way to serve businesses, including a nursing home that has had problems with its drainfield, said Culley. The soils found in Saluda are not known for perking well for drainfields.

Culley and Hart said the statewide average water usage is 155 gpd per home.

Consultant Steve Crow said the treatment plant’s estimated operating costs are $75,000 to $100,000 a year.

To pump and haul 39,900 gpd would cost over $1 million a year, Crow noted.

The proposed plant would process about 12,000 gpd when it opens, said Crow.

Sean Kemple, who owns land on Urbanna Creek, pointed out that the consultants’ July 2008 preliminary engineering report said the treatment plant equipment is being sized to “treat an average daily flow of 39,900 gpd with peak flows of 100,000 gpd.”

The consultant’s report states that the facility is “being planned for future expansion” and can be upgraded to 100,000 gpd.

The average daily flow of 39,900 gpd has to be multiplied by 2.5 times to get peak flows of 100,000 gpd, said Crow. “Equipment that we have in there is slightly oversized,” he said.

Discharge site

The proposed treatment plant will be about a half mile east of the courthouse. The treated wastewater will be pumped west about three-quarters of a mile to be discharged on the west side of Oakes Landing Road near the sheriff’s office, said Linderman.

The effluent from the plant would be discharged into a ravine near the sheriff’s office, where the county’s first proposed treatment plant was to be located.

This is being done so there will be no additional condemnation of shellfish areas, said Keith Skiles, classification chief with the Virginia Department of Health, Division of Shellfish Sanitation (DSS). He explained that Urbanna Creek is already closed to shellfish harvest because there is an existing treated sewage outfall from Urbanna’s sewage treatment facility. 

The Saluda treatment plant’s proposed outfall is further up the creek from Oakes Landing, and nearer its headwaters. Skiles explained the reason for this in an email on Tuesday: “Though the flushing potential is less in the upper reaches of the creek, the fact that the site is further removed from the shellfish closure line means that there is additional time for dispersion and die-off of potential organisms of concern, and therefore less likely that DSS would need to move the closure line further downstream,” he wrote.

Linderman said that during dry times the treated wastewater discharge may be absorbed by the ditch, which is about .85-mile long. He said the discharge has to meet water quality standards as it leaves the pipe, without benefit of dilution.

Public comments

During the public hearing, Janet Smith, a member of the Urbanna Town Council, said alternative effluent disposal has not been explored as “required by law. . . . Urbanna Creek can never recover as long as sewage is dumped into the creek,” she said.

Roger Martin of Urbanna said, “We ought to be talking about how we can reduce pollution in Urbanna Creek, not letting the county get away with increasing it.”

Kemple contended the treatment plant could eventually treat 500,000 gpd. “There is a lack of cooperation between Middlesex County and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District,” he claimed. 

Pete Mansfield of Urbanna said that even with nutrient reduction, the effluent would add the equivalent of 85 pounds of fertilizer per week to the creek. He also said HRSD will purchase “credits” so that the existing Urbanna plant can continue to exceed nutrient limits.

Francis Hall of Urbanna said, “Urbanna Creek is a small body of water and can handle only so much abuse.”

Kerry Robusto also asked for an alternative means of wastewater disposal.

Jimmy Pitts said it will cost the county $1 million to pipe from the treatment plant to the outfall. He suggested using that money to run the pipe to the Rappahannock River. “Look for an alternative,” he said.

Betty Coulson, the last speaker, said, “Let’s do something different.” She recalled how her father, Horace Norton, contracted a fatal disease from the water of Jackson Creek in Deltaville, which is also condemned.

Coulson told a story about when her 7-year-old granddaughter, Caroline Murray, visited one summer. Murray looked at Urbanna Creek and said, “Bebe, you’ve got to call the creek police. This is yucky!”

February 6 is the deadline to comment to DEQ on the Saluda wastewater treatment plant. Email or phone (804) 527-5044; or see SSentinel.com for more information.

The SWCB will make the final decision on the effluent discharge permit when it meets in March or April in Richmond, said public hearing officer Bob Wayland, a SWCB member.

posted 01.29.2009

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