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Imagine a Day Without Water

Posted on October 8, 2017 by | Comments Off

Our Water SystemsWe’ve had a very active hurricane season this year and so far Hampton Roads has been spared. But you don’t have to look far to see what life without water services would look like. For those with hurricane damage in the most remote areas, like Puerto Rico or Key West, the recovery effort to restore everyday utility services may be a long road. And as our thoughts are with those recovering from these catastrophic storms, we recognize the “Imagine a Day Without Water” campaign on Thursday, Oct. 12, to express our gratitude for the robust water and wastewater infrastructures that keep Hampton Roads flowing.

Imagine waking up in the morning to find the tap has gone dry. What would you miss most? Your morning cup of coffee? A hot shower? Cooking your favorite meal? How about the pitiful look on your pets’ faces when they realize there’s nothing for their water bowl? Whatever you’d miss most, the reality is that for the 1.7 million residents of Hampton Roads, access to clean, reliable tap water is as simple as turning on the tap. Water and wastewater services are one of the most reliable public services and we depend on these systems for growing our food, running our schools and hospitals, and fueling the economy and local entrepreneurship.

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Photo credit: Virginia Beach Public Utilities

Our region’s hard-working water and wastewater systems bring clean water to us and take sewage away to be treated before it is released safely back into the environment. But it’s not just water that you support with your monthly water and wastewater bill. While water falls from the sky and flows through our rivers, it is far from free. Collecting, storing, treating, and bringing water to and from our homes and businesses cost millions of dollars each year. Here in Hampton Roads, our public water systems are supported by 12 drinking water treatment plants with over 50 wells and 21 reservoirs storing over 34 billion gallons of water. And once we’ve used that water, more than 1,500 pump stations carry our sewage to the 10 wastewater treatment plants across the region. Just like our transportation routes, our region’s 6,500 miles of water distribution pipelines and over 5,800 miles of sanitary sewer lines need ongoing maintenance so that the reliable services they provide can continue uninterrupted.

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Photo credit: Virginia Beach Public Utilities

Investments in infrastructure range from smaller replacement project to large scale initiatives. HRSD’s Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) will take highly treated water that is normally discharged into local rivers and put it through additional treatment to raise it to drinking water standards. The water can then be injected into the Potomac Aquifer, creating a sustainable water resource for future generations, while simultaneously addressing land subsidence and saltwater intrusion. Smaller projects, like the Beach Road replacement project in the Fox Hill area of Hampton, focus on replacing aging water mains with new lines that reduce the potential for leaks and breaks.

While our region’s water and wastewater systems may be out of sight, they should not be out of mind. On Oct. 12, join askHRgreen.org, your local water utilities and groups across the country as we recognize the “Imagine a Day Without Water” campaign and the important role our underground water and wastewater systems play in delivering water services that fuel our economy, quality of life and vital health and public safety services. We invite you to join us in this effort by:  

  1. Giving up one activity that day that involves water and see what it’s like to go without. 
  2. Going  to www.shareH2o.org and consider a gift to the Help 2 Others (H2O) Program, a local 501(c)3 organization that assists families in danger of losing residential water service because of an unexpected crisis.
  3. Visiting one of our local water reservoirs to see firsthand where your water comes from and the trip it must make to be delivered to your home.  
  4. Discussing the importance of our region’s ongoing investment in this critical infrastructure by joining the conversation at facebook.com/askHRgreen.

 An investment that ensures our region’s public health, safety and economic vitality is one that should be maintained. It’s hard to imagine living without it.

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Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Community events, HR Green campaign updates, Using water wisely

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Chesapeake Tap Water Wins People’s Choice Award

Posted on June 1, 2017 by | Comments Off

h2o-1610746_960_720The City of Chesapeake was recently declared the Peoples’ Choice in a Tap Water Taste Test conducted by the Virginia chapter of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). This was the fourth year the VA AWWA has held the taste test competition at their three-day Water Distribution Seminar and Utility Rodeo. The event is modeled after the National AWWA Distribution & Plant Operations Conference, a leading educational conference for water system operators nationwide. The tap water taste test is a non-scientific, friendly competition intended to highlight the importance of taste and quality in drinking water, a vital public health resource. A utility is only eligible to enter the competition if they have no violations of bacteriological, chemical or monitoring data. 

Here’s how the taste test works: Conference attendees are given numbered paper cups containing samples of tap water served at ambient temperature. After tasting all samples, they record their choice of the best tasting water. The city that receives the most votes is awarded the Peoples’ Choice.

The award-winning tap water was submitted from Chesapeake’s Northwest River Water Treatment Plant. The city uses the latest advances in water treatment processes such as reverse osmosis and microfiltration. As this recent recognition indicates, it is clear they know how to make excellent drinking water in Chesapeake. Cheers!

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water

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askHRgreen.org Hits the Streets with “Write as Rain” Campaign

Posted on April 18, 2017 by | Comments Off

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Launched this week (just in time for Earth Day) on sidewalks, streetscapes and thoroughfares throughout Hampton Roads, the motivational campaign will reveal a bevy of good-to-know “green” messages that become visible when wet.  

With the approval of local municipalities, askHRgreen.org committee members blanketed the region using custom-made stencils and an eco-friendly rain-resistant spray to adhere their messages to sidewalks in locations where residents gather. When it becomes wet, the surface around the message darkens while the stenciled area stays dry and light. The messages carry such sayings as: Only Rain Down the Storm Drain; No Wipes in Our Pipes; Your Morning Shower Starts with Tap Water; and Cigarette Butts are Litter, Too. There are 12 different messages in all!

Why “Write as Rain?”
The goal of the campaign is to inspire people to think about our Hampton Roads environment in ways they haven’t before. What’s more unexpected than a magically appearing message written with rain?

Grab your umbrella and head outside to enjoy the next rainy day in Hampton Roads and look for messages in Chesapeake, Hampton, Isle of Wight County, James City County, Newport News, Portsmouth, Smithfield, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, York County, and more locations. Find a message near you using our interactive map below and check back often as new locations are added.

Whenever you find one of our hidden messages, don’t forget to snap a photo to share with us on social media #askHRgreen.  

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Community events, Don't litter!, Fats, oils and grease disposal, Going Green, HR Green campaign updates, Keeping storm drains free, Reduce reuse and recycle, Waterways

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When Bottled Water Reigns, Our Environment Loses

Posted on March 10, 2017 by | Comments Off

water-bottle-910787_960_720I’m reminded of a Beatles song this morning…”I read the news today, oh boy!”

And, oh boy, the news is not good. Business Insider reports that bottled water sales have now surpassed the sale of carbonated soft drinks. Now that’s great for our country’s health and our collective waistlines but it’s oh so bad for our environment. Bottled water consumption grew by 9 percent to 12.8 billion gallons in 2016. The most frustrating part of the bottled water trend might be the fact that half of bottled water is not from a mountain spring in a pristine forest somewhere in the Pacific Northwest or a remote tropical island. Nope. Bottled water is often regular municipal tap water, pumped through a filter and into a bottle at 2,000 times the cost of filling up a reusable bottle. Bottled water is even produced in drought-plagued areas of our country contributing to local water crises in places like California and Maine. Other baffling facts surrounding the bottled water trend include:

  • Bottled water is not held to the same quality standards as municipal tap water. Municipal tap water is constantly monitored by a local lab with standards set through the EPA. Bottled water has only moderate monitoring standards set through the FDA . For example, coliform bacteria testing is done once per week for bottled water and more than 100 times per month for municipal tap water.
  • It takes three times the amount of water to produce a plastic water bottle than it does to fill it. That’s 36 ounces of water used per 12 ounce bottle of water.
  • An estimated 17 million barrels of oil are consumed each year to produce and transport bottled water. That’s enough to power 1 million cars for a year!
  • 22 billion water bottles end up in landfills each year and will take hundreds of years to decompose.
  • You can refill a 20 ounce refillable water bottle at any tap in Hampton Roads 1,500 times for the same cost as a single container of bottled water.

So don’t be a sucker. Don’t fall prey to the hype. Instead, pick up a reusable water bottle to fill with tap water to make a healthy choice for your body and our environment.

To learn even more about the true cost of bottled water, check out the documentary Tapped.

 

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Don't litter!, Reduce reuse and recycle, Using water wisely

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Have you heard about SWIFT?

Posted on February 8, 2017 by | Comments Off

If I were to ask you what areas of the United States are facing water crises, your thoughts would probably veer toward drought-prone southern California or Texas. New Orleans might come to mind, with its flooding issues and precarious below-sea-level vantage point. But we’re ok in Hampton Roads! Nothing to worry about in our water-rich neck of the woods; we’re surrounded by bridges and tunnels and rivers galore! And we’re definitely not like New Orleans with a “too much water” problem, right? 

Sadly, Hampton Roads IS facing a water crisis- it’s just invisible. The Potomac aquifer, eastern Virginia’s largest water supply, is being overused and is shrinking beneath our feet. Groundwater-using industries are facing increasing regulations and new water-using industries are being told not to move to the region. The compacting aquifer is also contributing to land subsidence, which in turn is increasing the area’s susceptibility to the negative impacts of sea level rise. Hampton Roads is the second largest population at risk for the negative impacts of sea level rise, right behind infamous New Orleans. It’s not a pretty picture. 

Engineers and scientists have turned “used” into “useful” at the SWIFT Pilot Facility in Seaford, Virginia.

Engineers and scientists have turned “used” into “useful” at the SWIFT Pilot Facility in Seaford, Virginia.

So what do we do? How do we combat such an extensive, multi-faceted issue? Do we build flood walls? Elevate our homes on stilts? Move? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and there are many individuals and organizations working on the problem. HRSD is one of those organizations, and it’s tackling the situation head-on with an initiative that not only addresses the shrinking Potomac aquifer and land subsidence, but one that will help achieve Chesapeake Bay restoration goals and support our economy at the same time.

HRSD currently discharges approximately 150 million gallons of highly treated water into the waterways of Hampton Roads each day. Rather than continuing to waste this valuable resource, the Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) would take the water that would otherwise be discharged into the Elizabeth, James or York rivers and purify it through additional advanced water treatment to produce drinking-quality water. The purified water would then be treated to match the existing groundwater chemistry and added to the Potomac Aquifer. Hydraulic modeling suggests that this could reduce the effects of sea level rise by up to 25 percent and positively impact nearly the entire Potomac aquifer, as far north as Maryland and south beyond the North Carolina border.

With SWIFT, the York River would no longer regularly receive discharge from HRSD wastewater treatment plants.

With SWIFT, the York River would no longer regularly receive discharge from HRSD wastewater treatment plants.

SWIFT would also benefit the Chesapeake Bay. Replenishing groundwater with HRSD’s purified water would effectively eliminate more than 90 percent of HRSD’s discharge to local waters – reducing the total amount of nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen reaching the Bay. And the homes and industries in eastern Virginia that currently remove approximately 155 million gallons of groundwater from the Potomac aquifer every day would have a renewable source of groundwater to rely upon rather than an increasingly restricted one. 

Extensive environmental and economic benefits aside, why is HRSD pursuing SWIFT in the first place?  Its mission is to treat wastewater effectively, not to produce drinking-quality water and add it to the ground. Increasing regulations play a part. HRSD is continuously making process-level upgrades to its thirteen wastewater treatment plants to remove more and more nutrients and other contaminants from the highly treated water it discharges. By leaping forward under the assumption that the increasingly stringent regulations will continue, the next logical step would be to purify its water to the point that it’s clean enough to drink. Subsequently dumping such a valuable resource back into surface waters that don’t need it when technology exists to use it in a way that is regionally beneficial…well that just doesn’t make sense.

HRSD’s SWIFT team toasts their successful production of purified water on September 15, 2016.

HRSD’s SWIFT team toasts their successful production of purified water on September 15, 2016.

Secondly, HRSD is pursuing SWIFT because it recognizes that it’s part of the big picture. Land subsidence, shrinking groundwater supplies and rising seas are problems that impact ALL Hampton Roads’ residents, not just a select few. They are not problems that will go away if they’re ignored, nor are they problems with easy solutions. HRSD’s mission may be treating wastewater, but its vision is that future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean. SWIFT boldly meets that vision by protecting the Chesapeake Bay,  securing future groundwater supplies, addressing land subsidence and helping the economy. Those are things I think we can all stand behind.

Blog contributed by Molly Bertsch, Community Educator at HRSD.

 

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Using water wisely, Waterways

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