Growth, preservation of Blacksburg's natural heritage, and fiscal prudence . . . using the best of the old and new wastewater technology
Blacksburg currently has a well-managed sanitary sewer system, the only municipal system in the area to come through without massive sewage overflows during the recent series of heavy rains that broke all-time weather records. During the worst few-hours periods of rainfall, infiltration and inflow, i.e. water leaking into Blacksburg's sewage lines, far exceeded sewage flow, but no overflows occurred at all.
The model STEP collection in Blacksburg continues to expand and to extend its record of success. Although STEP collection is highly reliable and is performing well nationwide, an important factor in Blacksburg's successful experience has been public management of these systems. Both the EPA and Blacksburg's sewerage options working group recommended that all distributed sewer systems be publicly managed.
To a farmer wanting to sell land one day for a child's legacy, and to a developer, the following point is important. New technology distributed sewer, e.g., STEP collection, is public sewer. The sign “Land for sale: public sewer” would appear with distributed sewer as it would with sanitary sewer. This would appear as soon as a STEP hybrid main collector or a tennis-court sized recirculating media filter was installed.
There will be continuing strong citizen support for preserving RR1 density in the Toms Creek Basin and the opportunities to change this, but at least Blacksburg will have the option to wrestle with these choices. It will not have huge burgeoning costs on a sewer line forcing dense development.
Leakage is now a manageable problem in Blacksburg's sewer system. Standard wastewater technologies such as equalization tanks and non-invasive measures of inflow reduction could extend capacity in the North Main sewer lines for many years. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to consider the larger issue of supporting long-term growth and development.
But a sewer line through through a floodplains, wrapping around a creek, would be a giant step backwards from the best to the worst of the old sanitary sewer technology. Expansion and contraction of floodplains during wet and dry seasons places major stress on sewer pipe joints and connections. Over time, there would be not thousands of gallons of sewer line leakage, as occurs in Blacksburg's existing system, but millions of extra gallons of water flowing into Blacksburg's treatment plant. Blacksburg would be faced with the situation in Roanoke and municipalities throughout the country that wrapped sewer lines around waterways decades ago: sewer line overflows, polluted waterways, sewage treatment plant overflows, and major system upgrade costs.
In 1997, the EPA issued a report encouraging communities to actively explore the use of this century's wastewater technology, decentralized wastewater systems. This was done not because bored EPA staffers wanted to try something new. Rather, the EPA was finding that sanitary sewer systems installed with federal grants in earlier decades were having major problems, especially where waterway crossings were involved. Two studies found that the U.S. was facing wastewater and water infrastructure costs of one trillion dollars over the next two decades.
It is noteworthy that STEP systems have zero infiltration and inflow, so they preserve sewage system capacity and taxpayer dollars to treat sewage and support growth, not to treat rainwater.
A TCB sewer line would be an expensive fix for current growth problems that would yield the degradation of Blacksburg's distinctive natural heritage and escalating repair costs in decades ahead. This is not appropriate to leave as a legacy for future Blacksburg generations.
Town Council has the opportunity to study appropriate options for combining good old and new-technology solutions now on the table for the long-term growth needs of the North Main and Toms Creek Basin sectors of Town. Such a solution can satisfy the greater needs of Blacksburg and its future. Citizens will be vigilant to ensure that a decision is not made until the best options are properly studied.