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

Posted on April 18, 2017 by | Comments Off

rainworks_hashtag

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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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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Getting My Feet Wet – The International Coastal Cleanup

Posted on November 29, 2016 by | Comments Off

TWayne Joneshe City of Suffolk, for the first time, took part in the International Coastal Cleanup organized by Ocean Conservancy.  In Virginia this initiative is coordinated locally through Clean Virginia Waterways based at Longwood University.  The initiative is designed to raise awareness about and reduce ocean marine debris.  However, it’s more than just a traditional cleanup.  It is an effort to understand what type of debris and how much is getting into our waterways.  To understand it, a survey must be taken to find out how many tires, plastic bottles and kitchen sinks etc. are found within the area surveyed.  This makes this initiative more complicated than your traditional cleanup.  As Litter Control Coordinator for the city and veteran Clean the Bay Day Captain I knew that conducting a debris survey of the downtown section of the Nansemond River shoreline in kayaks and canoes would be challenging.  Not challenging because it’s mentally complicated, but practically, as it’s not easy cleaning out the wetlands, reaching for plastic bottles, completing a survey whilst trying not to drift or drop something. 

So being our first year, and as a seasoned kayaker, I knew it would be literally a juggling act and so I wanted to “get my feet wet” before we really promoted it and recruited volunteers.  I registered our cleanup with Clean Virginia Waterways, but I kept it exclusive to people I knew with the goal of getting feedback so that next year when we roll it out to the public it would run smoothly and give us a good foundation to build on year-on-year.  As an experienced volunteer coordinator it’s essential that an event runs smoothly and is well-organized.  Nothing frustrates a person donating their time more than a poorly organized and executed event. 

Debris CollectedSo what did we learn from our 3 hour pilot effort on a beautiful Saturday morning in October?  To do this in canoes and kayaks it takes two people.  One person has the litter grabbers and one person with the pencil and clipboard to record the data.  I had originally thought that we would do the cleanup and then do the survey by emptying the bags and recording all the debris using the app developed by Ocean Conservancy.  However, it quickly became apparent by the rate of bags we were filling that this method would be extremely time consuming and, in addition, I realized there was a lot of larger items we had to leave behind, but needed to include in the survey.  The largest of these items was an ice refrigerator like the ones you find outside any gas station.  I suspect this came from the gas station washed out by Hurricane Mathew the week before and then marooned in the wetlands.

David KeelingHaving the right equipment is also important.  I purchased four sets of six feet long litter grabbers and tested them out during this cleanup and they are great at reaching into the wetlands and grabbing plastic bottles and other types of consumer packaging.  I would highly recommend these for this type of a cleanup.  It’s also important to have a larger canoe or small boat to go between teams offloading the collected debris, providing supplies and dropping the debris at the collection point.      

I’m thankful for having done a test run before actively recruiting volunteers next year.  It’s a fun and an educational experience as well as rewarding to be part of an international effort to collect data and contribute to a global picture of what type of debris is finding its way into our oceans.  With quantitative data, governments, businesses, non-profits, individuals etc. can begin to address the problem and work towards solutions and hopefully we will see a downward trend in marine debris. 

One of the highlights for me was meeting a guy named Bill Farrell.  Bill was enjoying a morning stroll by the river as we were in the middle of the cleanup.  He shouted out to me “thanks for doing this, I have a kayak, how can I get involved?” so I told him I’m the Litter Control Coordinator in Public Works.  Monday morning when I was back in the office he called me and gave me his details and said his wife would like to help as well.  I never expected to be recruiting for next year so soon but I’m looking forward to it and making this an annual Suffolk event which will be fun and educational for all. 

For more information about Clean Virginia Waterways and the International Coastal Cleanup http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/

So what did we find?

Items Found

Number of Each Item Found

Plastic Bottles

227

Aluminum Cans

114

Glass Bottles

63

Styrofoam Cups / Food containers

58

Plastic Bags

18

Tires

4

Wooden Planks

4

Yard Signs

3

Oil Cartons

3

Traffic Cones

2

Buoy

2

Cooler

2

Ice Refrigerator

1

House Insulation

1

Tool Box

1

Trash Can Lid inscribed “Please Don’t Litter”

1

Guest blog contributed by Wayne Jones, Litter Control Coordinator with the City of Suffolk.

Posted in: Community events, Don't litter!, Keeping storm drains free, Waterways

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