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Public hearing on sewage plant is Wednesday

(by Tom Chillemi)

“Where the sewage line goes, so does the population.
Be careful what you ask for.”
—Bob Crump

Public debate has brought out several sewage issues that will come up when the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) holds a public hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 6:30 p.m. at St. Clare Walker Middle School on Route 33 at Locust Hill.

The hearing is on a proposed 39,900-gallon wastewater treatment plant to serve the Middlesex Courthouse and other parts of Saluda. It begins at 6:30 p.m. with an informational briefing. The actual public comment period begins at 7 p.m.

The following article looks at a few sewer issues.

Is a pipeline better?

Opponents of the proposed Middlesex Courthouse wastewater treatment plant argue that building a pipeline to connect with the Gloucester line is better environmentally and economically.

However, a 20-mile pipeline is a long-term solution that is off the table right now. “I’d rather have a pipeline,” said Bob Crump, chairman of the Middlesex Board of Supervisors, on Monday. “But a pipeline is many years away and would cost millions of dollars. We’ve got to come up with something in the interim that will serve the courthouse, the high school and Saluda.”

Crump noted that the board of supervisors has proposed that the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) shut down its Urbanna treatment plant and pipe town wastewater across Urbanna Creek to the proposed Saluda plant, which could be operated by HRSD.

Jim Pyne, chief of the HRSD Small Communities Division, said Middlesex has not “seriously” asked for HRSD’s help. Middlesex and HRSD have only talked about working together.

The county needs to write a letter of intent to HRSD that indicates the county is serious about partnering with HRSD, said Pyne. “Until I get something in writing asking HRSD to help out, there is nothing I can do,” said Pyne on Monday.

As for a Middlesex pipeline, Pyne said HRSD has committed to building a pipeline on Route 198 from Mathews Courthouse to Gloucester at a cost of $16 to $20 million. “I don’t think I can add another capital project of that magnitude right now.”

Pyne restated that the pipeline is a long-term solution, and a treatment plant is a short-term solution. “The mid-term solution is very elusive,” he said.

Pyne said the Mathews pipeline is expensive and will serve only about 200 customers.

Middlesex would be in a similar situation if a pipeline were built, said Crump. “We wouldn’t have enough income from customers. I’d love to have a pipe, but it’s not feasible now. There isn’t an economy of scale.”

For a pipeline to be feasible, more customers are needed, Crump said. “Do we want the amount of population that makes it feasible?” he asked, and added that most people want Middlesex to remain rural.

“Where the sewage line goes, so does the population,” said Crump. “Be careful what you ask for.”

Is land application feasible?

One goal of opponents to the proposed Saluda wastewater treatment is to keep the treated wastewater, with its nutrients, from going into Urbanna Creek.

One possible alternative is land application of the treated wastewater. Treated wastewater from the subdivisions of Kilmer’s Point and Cedar Pointe just west of Urbanna is sprayed on agricultural fields, said Jeremy Kazio of DEQ.

The system has a permit to treat up to 32,500 gallons per day, said Kazio. The design consists of two aerated lagoons (ponds) for the primary and secondary treatment, and a third lagoon that serves as a polishing pond. The treated wastewater flows from the polishing pond to the chlorine contact tank where it is disinfected. From there, it is pumped to a 14-acre field via a diesel-powered pump and applied to the land with a rolling spray nozzle.

The soils within the spray field are tested every six months for 18 different parameters. (See complete list of land application requirements at

DEQ wrote new regulations for wastewater reclamation and re-use last year that total more than 100 pages, said Curt Linderman, water permit manager for the Piedmont regional office.

Spraying treated wastewater on grass seems a natural solution. However, there are other considerations, said Linderman. The wastewater has to be applied at a rate so there is no leaching into ground water. There is the potential for over application because the grass might not take up the water and it could seep into the ground water. This means excess wastewater has to be stored when the ground is frozen or in the winter when the grass is dormant and needs less water.

While the treated wastewater has some nutrients, there may not be enough to make the grass as green as some desire.

To what extent will nutrients in the discharge be controlled?

One problem with some treated wastewater is that it contains nutrients that feed algae in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. With all the extra nutrients, algae blooms and this excessive amount of algae growth reduces the amount of sunlight getting to the underwater grasses, retarding their growth.

When the algae die, they use up oxygen in the water to the detriment of aquatic life.

DEQ considers the nutrient load from a treatment plant in the context of the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed, said Linderman.

The proposed Middlesex plant will have to control the amount of nitrogen that is in the effluent. Nitrogen, a nutrient commonly found in fertilizer, will be measured through “TKN,” which indicates how much oxygen will be used in breaking down nitrogen, said Linderman.

If Middlesex maintains its permit limit for TKN, which is very low, then “ammonia should not be a problem,” said Linderman.

If Middlesex goes above 40,000 gallons per day (GPD), then it will have to offset the entire nutrient load, said Linderman. The offset can be done with Best Management Practices (BMPs) that include planting riparian buffers to stop nutrient runoff, or by hooking up water users to the sewer line, thereby reducing the number of residences using septic systems. Septic systems allow nutrients to get into the ground water.

Generally, treatment plants with permits for 39,900 gallons do not have to treat wastewater to as high a standard as plants with permits for more than 40,000 gallons per day.

Middlesex County Administrator Charlie Culley said the county’s treatment plant will treat to the level required for plants that are permitted for over 40,000 GPD. “We will produce cleaner effluent than we are required to by law,” Culley said on Tuesday. “We will have nutrient removal to start with.”

Where will the effluent discharge?

The effluent from the plant will be discharged into a ravine near the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office where the county’s first proposed treatment plant was to be located. The latest proposed plant is about a half mile east of the courthouse. The treated wastewater will be pumped back to be discharged from site of the original permit on the west side of Oakes Landing Road. This is being done so there will be no additional adverse effect on shellfish, said Curt Linderman of DEQ.

During dry times the treated wastewater discharge may be absorbed into the ditch, said Linderman, who added the discharge has to meet water quality standards as it leaves the plant without benefit of dilution.

posted 01.15.2009

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