Health officials test bacteria levels in James River and Tuckahoe Creek, VDH advisory will stay

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A health advisory for residents to avoid Tuckahoe Creek and parts of the James River will remain in place after a large sewage spill.

Today, residents headed out to Belle Isle in Richmond. Some even took a dip in the water. Health advisory signs can be spotted along the trail and at Robious Landing Park in Chesterfield.

The Virginia Department of Health is warning people to avoid activities on the water after a sewage spill in Goochland County Tuesday evening.

VDH is advising that recreational water activities, such as swimming, wading, tubing, and whitewater kayaking should be avoided. These are activities where submersion in the water is likely.

Lars Reisinger, a Richmond resident, told 8News he saw the alert on Instagram.

“Well, we’re not going to go swimming,” said Reisinger.

Health advisory signs can be spotted along the trail and at Robious Landing Park in Chesterfield. (Photo: 8News Rachel Keller)

Reisinger said he and his wife, Megan Landrieux, visit Belle Isle often. They weren’t expecting to see a health advisory. “I thought that was pretty gross. How long is this going to take?” asked Reisinger.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, a 40-inch pipeline ruptured near River Road in Goochland County. The burst spilled around 300,000 gallons of raw sewage into Tuckahoe Creek and along 12 miles of the James River.

Tuckahoe Creek travels six miles along the mainstem and the Western Tuckahoe Branch to the James River near the Chippenham Parkway bridge crossing. Since the release was stopped Tuesday night, no sewage is currently being released.

Margaret Smigo is the Waterborne Hazards Program Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health.

“That was a high-volume release,” said Smigo.

The sewage force main that burst is shared by both Goochland and Henrico counties. The priority right now for crews is clean up and repairs. Crews are working around the clock to repair the pipe and clean up sewage nearby.

Steve Tubman is the Pollution Response Coordinator for the Piedmont Regional Office within the Department of Environmental Quality.

Crews are working around the clock to repair the pipe and clean up sewage nearby. (Photo: 8News Rachel Keller)

“The pipe has been scoped in either direction to look for obstruction and there was none found, so they’re currently replacing the impacted section of the pipe and hopefully having it covered up and back on-line by the end of the day,” said Tubman.

Tubman told 8News when the pipe burst on Tuesday sewage spilled down River Road to a wetland section on both sides of the road. On one side, the sewage found itself in a plantation pipeline and in an area before it was able to make it to Tuckahoe Creek. But on the other side, sewage was able to spill over into the water.

All wastewater is being pumped out and transferred to a wastewater treatment facility in Henrico. The cause of the break is unknown at this time.

“These things happen. A lot of rain can inundate these systems and sometimes failures happen in certain places. Unfortunately this one happened here,” said Tubman.

Crews plan to re-open that portion of River Road by Saturday. The Department of Environmental Quality took samples of bacteria from the water Thursday, but plans to resample on Monday.

“Time will tell. If we get those samples back next week, hopefully they’re looking good and we can get people back in the water and doing what they do in summertime,” said Tubman.

In addition to avoiding contacting with the waterbodies, people should wash skin with soap and water if they cannot avoid contact with water in the vicinity. This will prevent water illnesses due to exposure to sewage release events. Also, residents should avoid a water area where there is a foul odor.

The Virginia Department of Health is planning to release an update on the advisory next week.

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