HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Henrico County will be making a million dollar investment and several changes to their sewer system after multiple environmental agencies settled a lawsuit against the county for harmful impacts on the James River.

Henrico County will be required to invest $1 million into an environmental project that will reduce pollution, as well as taking several other actions to address sewage pollution issues and the potential health effects on residents.

The Henrico County Water Reclamation Facility, which has been in place since 1989 and its connected collection system has had at least 40 violation notices and five different state consent orders in the 34 years it has been in operation. These violations were largely in part to the County releasing raw sewage into the James River.

In December 2021, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and James River Association filed a lawsuit related to decades of water pollution violations by Henrico County’s sewage collection system and treatment plant in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In this suit, the James River Association pointed to “critical failures” in the “crumbling sewer infrastructure” in the county that posed a threat both to the local environment and resident health.

The court dismissed the case on Tuesday, Feb. 28 after a settlement was reached.

In addition to the $1 million investment, Henrico will also be making changes to its a consent order with Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality. According to this order, the County agreed to take steps to alleviate violations of the Clean Water Act. 

These changes include:

– Notifying the public of sewage overflows. This will be done through an online map of waterways and the collection system that will be updated daily. Outreach will also include physical measures like door hangers and bill inserts.

– Constructing of new filters at the wastewater treatment plant.

– “Ramping up” sewer inspections, such as adding video inspections of sewer pipes and smoke testing to the process.

– Launching a new sewer cleaning program.

– Considering a program to address sewage overflows on private property.

– Addressing how heavier rainfalls could impact the current sewage system.

While $1 million is a large investment, it may have saved Henrico County quite a bit in the long run. According to the initial complaint, the county would have potentially been subject to fines of “up to $56,460 for each day of violation” under the Clean Water Act.

“This legally enforceable agreement ensures that the public will be better informed and protected from sewage spills and pollution violations,” James River Association CEO, Bill Street said. “Additionally, we are pleased that all parties involved were able to reach agreement on projects that will benefit the James River.”

This is not the first time a central Virginia sewage system has caused problems for the James River. It was estimated that in 2021, the City of Richmond released 2 billion gallons of raw sewage into the river. The cost of fixing Richmond’s current sewage system, which was built in the 19th century, was previously estimated to cost over $1 billion.