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This Pump Station Runs on Innovation. And Coffee. Lots of Coffee.

Posted on May 22, 2017 by | Comments Off

If you live here, this will come as no surprise: Hampton Roads is really flat. It’s life at sea level, and the combination of past construction on wetlands, rising sea level and sinking ground (called relative sea level rise) has turned southeastern Virginia into a poster-child for sea level rise impacts. Hampton Roads is rated second only to New Orleans as the area most vulnerable to relative sea level rise in the United States. All eyes are on us and it’s got everyone talking “resiliency.” How do we prepare?  How do we adapt? One way HRSD is taking action is through SWIFT, an initiative to replenish the aquifer with purified water in an effort to stop the ground from sinking. 

But we’ve been living the low-lying life here for . . . well, forever. And some things we had to learn a long time ago.  For example, when you live sans elevation, you can’t rely on gravity to move water for you. It can’t flow downhill without a hill, so you’ve got to move it. Wastewater from homes and businesses needs to be moved to a wastewater treatment plant and cleaned, so we’ve got to pump it there. We do this with pump stations, and HRSD has over 100 of them. 

You need a birds-eye view when infrastructure goes 30 feet into the ground.

Construction at HRSD’s Bridge Street Pump Station.  You need a birds-eye view when infrastructure goes 30 feet into the ground.

These pump stations need to be maintained and they need to meet the needs of the population pumping to them, or else sewage spills out into the environment. More people = more flushes = more wastewater flowing through the pipes. Today, HRSD is 60% of the way through a project to replace a pump station in Hampton that is past its useful life in terms of age and capacity. This pump station is over 70 years old!  The new Bridge Street Pump Station incorporates the latest technology and will be able to handle the flushes, showers and dishwashing of a growing population in downtown Hampton. Without this investment in infrastructure, wastewater overflows would occur, spilling dirty water into our waterways. 

But this is not your run-of-the-mill pump station.  As HRSD’s General Manager, Ted Henifin, always says, “We reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow.” The new $12.4 million Bridge Street Pump Station is designed to pump up to 16.6 million gallons of wastewater per day and will be resistant to tidal flooding as well as the effects of long-term relative sea level rise. It’s also designed to look like a house and blend naturally with the surrounding neighborhood. Here’s what will lie beneath that homey-looking exterior:

  1. Walls that go down more than 30 feet into the ground.
  2. 5 pumps at the bottom of the pump station:  two 75-horsepower pumps and three 300-horsepower pumps.
  3. Pipes that range from eight to 48 inches in diameter.
  4. 2,700 cubic yards of concrete, grout and fill (to date).
  5. 14 concrete walls, each of them three-feet thick.

Designing for the future is not cheap, but our local economy is benefiting before this project is even complete. There is a wide range of contractors involved:  heavy equipment operators, pipe layers, electricians, plumbers, etc. The number of man hours between HRSD and the local engineering experts and local construction staff hired for this project, still with 10 months to go, is impressive. To date, this project has required approximately 1,400 man hours from HRSD, with HDR completing over 11,000 man hours and MEB General Contractors reaching almost 13,000 man hours. That’s TENS OF THOUSANDS of man hours for this one project in less than three years. HDR’s Inspector is also estimated to have downed 750 cups of coffee in order to keep pace with all this work, so the local economic impact from coffee consumption alone is surely noteworthy.

The Bridge Street Pump Station project and HRSD’s VIP project both take a proactive approach to address aging infrastructure. When completed, these projects will improve HRSD’s ability to handle more frequent peak flows as a result of sea level rise. Check out HRSD’s Time To Build Video to learn more about these efforts to invest in infrastructure, build our community, and grow our economy.

Posted in: Waterways

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It’s Time to Build: This Is Not Your Mother’s Wastewater Treatment Plant

Posted on May 15, 2017 by | Comments Off

It’s challenging. It’s rewarding. It’s exciting. Water is essential for life. These are my answers to the question, “Why do you work for water?” In Hampton Roads, HRSD is working hard to ensure future generations inherit clean waterways and are able to keep them clean. This vision could never be achieved without investment in infrastructure. But infrastructure does more than protect the environment. Infrastructure also builds communities, grows the local economy, and develops jobs. A lot of jobs, as it turns out. Take a closer look at the impact of just one of HRSD’s current infrastructure projects: the latest overhaul of a wastewater treatment plant in Norfolk.  

Raw sewage ran in open ditches as children played in Portsmouth's Simonsdale neighborhood in 1944, documenting the need for construction of a sanitary sewer system.

Raw sewage ran in open ditches as children played in Portsmouth’s Simonsdale neighborhood in 1944, documenting the need for construction of a sanitary sewer system.

HRSD’s Virginia Initiative Plant (VIP) started out as the Lambert’s Point Plant in 1948. If you are wondering if that is old for a sewage treatment plant, yes, that’s super old. How old is super old? Consider this – in 1948, Scrabble and Polaroid cameras were new. Back then, the mere fact that we were treating wastewater at all, instead of just sending raw sewage directly into waterways, was innovative. But by 1987, nutrients had been identified as a major problem for the Chesapeake Bay and we expected more. Construction began on the plant’s largest overhaul, which included a biological nutrient removal process – a process that HRSD would later patent and share throughout the world at no cost to help advance wastewater treatment. Sounds ground-breaking for the 80s, right? It’s because it was. I may be a Millennial, but I’m an old Millennial with a certain fondness for the 80s. Scrunchies. Perms. Neon. I dig it. But ya’ll, personal computers were considered cutting edge technology in the 80s. We’ve come a long way since then, and I certainly don’t want my water resources protected by something that rivals the technology of the Apple IIGS I remember having as our first family computer.  Now don’t get me wrong, I did love my time spent on the Oregon Trail, but remember how long those things took to boot up?  Do we even still say “boot up”?

View of construction efforts at HRSD's Virginia Initiative Plant.

View of construction efforts at HRSD’s Virginia Initiative Plant in Norfolk.

Today, VIP is almost 75% of the way through another major overhaul, a project that will take nearly 5 years to complete. Think of it as version 3.0. While VIP has the capability to remove nutrients, it does not remove enough to meet the Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements. To meet these requirements, HRSD and partners HDR and MEB General Contractors are installing a 5-stage biological Enhanced Nutrient Removal (ENR) process at VIP.  This new process will reduce the nitrogen to 5 mg/l and phosphorus down to 1 mg/l, providing a significant water quality enhancement in our local waterways. At the same time, VIP’s systems and treatment processes are being upgraded to treat a greater volume during storm events. The peak flow capacity of the plant is being increased from 80 to 100 million gallons per day. This ensures the plant has the capacity for major rain events, as rainwater often flows into the wastewater system during storms.  Without this extra capacity, the total amount of water flowing to the plant during major rain events could inundate the wastewater treatment plant, causing back-ups and potential overflows in the system. 

Version 3.0 costs over $150 million.  Is it worth it? Is it really time to build now? YES! Our water infrastructure is aging and we ALL need clean water. But it does so much more for the local economy than you may realize. The local economy receives a boost from any major infrastructure project. Our partner, MEB General Contractors, is based in Chesapeake and uses locally based subcontractors. Over the course of this one project, hundreds of jobs have been created and sustained.  The daily manpower onsite has ranged from 75 to 150 workers, not including support staff at home offices and supplier facilities, and has required 621,740 total man hours. These jobs allow many people to have stable employment close to their families, and in turn, the people involved in the design, construction and supply of materials funnel money back into the local economy. And speaking of materials (drum roll, please) this project requires the equivalent of 90 miles of concrete and steel piles, 5,700 tons of reinforcing steel, more than 45,000 cubic yards of concrete, 7,000 truckloads of excavation, 4 miles of piping ranging from ½” to 9’ in diameter, 182,000 feet of conduit and 1,160,000 feet of copper wire.  Whew.  I want to build something just thinking about it. 

The numbers are impressive, but Bruce Husselbee, HRSD’s Director of Engineering, knows it starts and ends with people. He recently told me, “We employ talented individuals and through their hard work and dedication make these infrastructure projects successful.”

Infrastructure may be crumbling across the country, but here in Hampton Roads, we are building. We are building now, so that future generations will benefit from clean water. We have a long history of not only meeting needs, but exceeding them and we will be ready when the next challenge arises.  Leggings may have made a comeback, but the Walkman’s glory days are long gone. We have to continue innovating and investing in infrastructure for the sake of our communities, jobs, and economy. Working for water means working for our future. 

Posted in: Waterways

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avatar Holds Office Litter Cleanup

Posted on May 1, 2017 by | Comments Off

IMG_3919On Friday, April 21, staff of, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC) and Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) celebrated Earth Day by hosting a community litter cleanup in Chesapeake. Staff members were invited to spend an hour outside cleaning up litter that had accumulated around the nearby bus stop, along the roadway, and in the parking lots and canal surrounding the regional offices. Some staff members even brought kayaks that allowed litter to be removed from the waterway. The most commonly littered items around the HRPDC/HRTPO building were cigarette butts and convenience products such as disposable drink bottles and food wrappers. This is a common theme that is seen not only statewide but internationally. There were a few unusual finds, however, including a hub cab, bedroll, car battery and even a bike that was partially submerged in the muddy bank of the canal.

Supplies for the cleanup were provided by the City of Chesapeake and included safety vests, gloves, litter grabbers and trash bags. Staff’s efforts will also be logged as part of the Great American Cleanup, America’s largest community improvement program, powered by more than 5 million volunteers nationwide.

Get involved in a Great American Cleanup project near you or contact your local Litter Prevention Coordinator to organize an event for your workplace or neighborhood.

IMG_3890 IMG_3896












Posted in: Beautification, Don't litter!

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