Infiltration and Inflow Problems with Sanitary Sewer
Systems in Roanoke:
See below for highlights on cost overruns.
The Roanoke River and its tributaries often reek of raw sewage from an average of 35 overflows per year from sewage lines. (Roanoke Times, July 9, 2000, p. A1; July 17, 2000, p. A1; June 7, 1998, p. B1)
The Roanoke Regional Sewage treatment plant had more than 20 potential violations in which at least 170 million gallons of untreated sewage was believed released into the Roanoke River during the year 2000, according a letter to the city from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. (Roanoke Times, February 15, 2001, p. A1)
“It looks gross and smells even worse. Wastewater, condoms, and rats, flowing onto the streets of downtown Roanoke and if you go near the Roanoke River, you’ll see the same thing. It seems raw sewage is flowing out of manholes and down into the river.” (WSLS Channel 10, Roanoke, April 5, 2000)
Tinker Creek, of the Pulitzer-prize winning “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” by Annie Dillard, is now non-supported for swimming due to 12 sewage line overflows since 1993. Mud Lick Creek has also become polluted from 39 overflows from the Roanoke sewer system. (“Sewage Overflows Cause Stink,” Roanoke Times, June 7, 1998, p. B1).
A study commissioned by sewer and water authorities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and others estimated that upgrades to aging U.S. sewer and water pipes and treatment plants will cost one trillion dollars over the next twenty years. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency independently reached the same conclusion. (AP Online, February 6, 2001) Much of this huge expense is to fix problems caused by sewer lines crossing waterways.
In the early 1970s, an unknown writer, Annie Dillard, moved into a house on the bank of Tinker Creek near Hollins College.
For more than a year she read, wrote and observed the creek, noting its forested stream banks, its abundance of wildlife and mostly its crystal-clear water.
Her observations became the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," which drew comparisons to Henry David Thoreau's "Walden."
Thirty years later, Tinker Creek is again drawing attention.
Last year, as part of an Environmental Protection Agency research project, students at Virginia Tech fanned out across the Roanoke Valley to look at the water quality in the tributaries of the Roanoke River, including Tinker Creek.
"What we found is that most of the sites around Roanoke aren't in that good of shape," said Van Stancil, a graduate student in Tech's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences.
Stancil said he found poor water quality and a decline in aquatic life possibly due to sewage from leaking pipes in the water and erosion from poor land-use practices.
Tinker Creek is not alone. Across the Roanoke Valley, many streams that flow into the Roanoke River are in trouble. Their banks are eroding, and fecal coliform bacteria have been detected in many of them, possibly from sewage overflows.
Of the 190 reported overflows, 93 were in Roanoke
County and 45 were in Roanoke , many at the waste water treatment plant.
Sunday, July 09, 2000
The first of a 6-part series.
In the summer of 1998, two employees of the Roanoke City Health Department explored the Roanoke River. They, like most residents of the Roanoke Valley, had heard stories of how polluted the river was.
"We wanted to find out for ourselves," said Dick Tabb, environmental manager at the health department. Starting at Riverside Park in Salem, Tabb and Dr. Molly Rutledge, the health department's director, canoed six hours down the river to Roanoke's Regional Sewage Treatment Plant.
They saw the best of the river: cranes and other birds splashing near Apperson Drive and fish darting by.
And they saw the river at its worst: Sewage overflows and industrial discharges near Wiley Drive and debris ranging from condoms to refrigerators.
. . . Sewage overflows. Since 1994, according to data from the state Department of Environmental Quality, there have been 172 sewage overflows into the Roanoke River and its tributaries. State regulators say the spills contribute to the high fecal coliform bacteria count in the river.
Thursday, February 15, 2001
Roanoke's utilities director says the overflows were promptly reported to the Department of Environmental Quality.
The state Department of Environmental Quality is investigating sewage overflows into the Roanoke River at the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant.
… The DEQ sent the city a letter last October that summarized more than 20 potential violations during the year. Included were several incidents last year in which millions of gallons of sewage overflowed into the river - especially when it rained heavily.
According to the letter, the DEQ believed 170 million gallons or more of untreated sewage were released into the river last year.
OVERFLOWS BUDGET RECENT ESTIMATE 61% ABOVE ORIGINAL
The price for the Roanoke Valley's regional sewage project continues to swell as the patience of local government leaders wanes.
The most recent cost estimate for the ongoing project is $66.9 million - 61 percent higher than the original proposal of $41.5 million in 1993.
Thursday, August 24, 2000
Taxpayers may get hit with a bigger bill to fix the problem or the local governments might sue the contractors for repairs.
A $20 million upgrade to the regional sewage treatment plant is doing far less than the job it's supposed to do, Roanoke officials said this week.
It's possible that millions more in taxpayer money will be needed to fix the problem. It's also possible that the city may sue one or more of the private companies that worked on the project.
SEWAGE PLANT REPAIR BILL INCREASES BY $16 MILLION
Date: March 18, 2003 Section: VIRGINIA Page: A1
By TODD JACKSON THE ROANOKE TIMES
Roanoke finally has plenty of water supply coming in, but it still has a problem with what's going out.
The city council learned Monday that the cost of a state-mandated upgrade to the regional sewage treatment plant is now $48 million - up $16 million from April 2002 estimates. That means Roanoke utility customers will pay 35 percent more for their sewer service in the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years to cover the city's share of the project, Utilities Director Mike McEvoy said. The 2004 fiscal year begins July 1.