RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — In dry weather, sewage from domestic, commercial and industrial sources flows through Richmond’s combined sewer system to the wastewater treatment plant. But during wet weather, like the city experienced this week, an abundance of water causes combined sewage and stormwater to overflow from outfall pipes into the James River.

To track sites where there is an overflow, the Richmond Department of Public Works and the Department of Public Utilities run a real-time combined sewer system map that’s updated every five minutes to know where there is an overflow of sewage.

On Friday, ten spots along the James River were dotted with red triangles which symbolized a sewage overflow event, following the rain earlier in the week.

Richmond Department of Public Utilities sewage overflow map screenshot captured on Aug. 12, 2022. The map is also available to view in real-time.

The sewage overflow map updates every five minutes and stays red for 48 hours following the last time an overflow of sewage occurred.

“An overwhelming majority of overflow volume (over 90%) is stormwater runoff,” the Richmond Department of Public Utilities Twitter account explained in a thread about the overflow map. “The rest is wastewater.”

Wastewater includes everything from washing machines and showers and baths to whatever your toilet flushes, according to the department.

Graphic of Richmond’s combined sewer system. Image credit: Richmond Department of Public Utilities

In other words, it’s material people normally steer clear of for health reasons.

With that in mind, those who want to take advantage of the summery weather this weekend and take a dip in the James River should also check the James River Association’s interactive map monitoring bacteria levels. On Friday, that map showed high caution levels in three spots along the James because of E. Coli bacteria concentrations located at the 42nd Street access, the James River Watershed and Rocketts Landing.

According to the National Institutes of Health, E. Coli can cause intestinal illnesses in humans like urinary tract infections, abdominal and pelvic infections, pneumonia, bacteremia, and meningitis.

According to the Richmond Department of Utilities, the city’s sewer system currently captures 91% of would-be overflow volume annually. Ten projects are currently in the works to bring the city to 92%.

The state has imposed a timeline for Richmond to finish separating its stormwater and sewer system in five years’ time. And the Department of Public Utilities’ interim plan addresses the specific timeframes for this and a final plan to address sewer overflows.