Richmond leaders call for funding to meet state-mandated renovations of combined sewer system

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and city leaders came together Wednesday morning to address the need for state and federal funding to remediate the city’s combined sewer overflow by 2035.

According to the city, meeting the requirements of Virginia Senate Bill 1064 to eliminate combined sewer overflows by 2035 would cost an estimated $883M.

The remediation needed would allow the city to control overflow discharges into the James River.

In the 1800s, parts of Richmond’s sewer system were designed as a combined system that allowed pipes to transport both wastewater and stormwater. Those pipes are still in use today. However, during heavy rains or snow, the sewer flows exceed capacity.

“We all want a cleaner James River and. A cleaner Chesapeake Bay. Historically the challenge facing Richmond and other localities is that we have aging infrastructure. We have a combined sewer system that was built in the 1800s,” Mayor Stoney said.

The mayor told reporters during the briefing that the city has reduced its combined sewer overflow by 90%, but still has 10% to go.

“The Shockoe basin was built in the 1980s for around $60M. It can hold 50 million gallons of combined sewer overflow, which is a lot, but the flow from the downtown area and Shockoe valley is actually in the billions of gallons per year that we need to capture,” Stoney explained.

Reducing the 10% in the next 12 years would cost $883M. To put this cost in perspective, the entire budget of the city in 2020 was $770 million. 

“We as the City of Richmond can’t do it alone without financial assistance from the federal and state government, utility rates will skyrocket for ratepayers,” Stoney said.

If the city can not come up with assistance, ratepayers’ bills could go from $770 to $2200 per household per year. 

Governor Ralph Northam made a commitment to the city of $50M for this issue, which will address 1% of the remaining CSO’s through 10 projects. Stoney said he is grateful.

The Director of the Bay Foundation Peggy Sanner said that this is a very important project as the river attracts white water enthusiasts. Sanner said the river is polluted with bacteria and runoff from the streets.

“This is a legacy from not one century ago, but from one more than that, from the 1800s,” Sanner said.

James River Association Chief Executive Officer Bill Street said that weekly bacteria monitoring of the James River shows that the section downstream of Richmond, over the past 5 years, is only safe 65% of the time.

“We need to do more. We need to invest. We need to get this project complete and make sure we can supply access to clean water for all of Virginia,” Street said.

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