HRSD's Williamsburg plant has its eye on the future

HRSD’s pursuit to acquire the 76-acre parcel of land that completely surrounds its Williamsburg Treatment Plant has raised concerns about historical preservation potentially being in conflict with HRSD’s need to cost effectively serve the public. These two important endeavors are not mutually exclusive.

As the region’s wastewater treatment agency, HRSD has served a critical role in delivering the quality of life James City County residents currently enjoy. HRSD funded and constructed the Williamsburg Treatment Plant in 1971, which was needed to attract and support Anheuser Busch’s brewery and theme park investments in James City County.

More importantly, with passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the plant was needed to reduce pollution in the James River, eliminating the direct discharge of untreated sewage.

The plant’s capacity was expanded to treat 22.6 million gallons per day in 1988 — more than double its original 9.6 million gallons per day capacity — to accommodate a growing population, largely within James City County. This multi-million dollar expansion was funded with regional HRSD dollars, making the investment affordable for the direct beneficiaries in James City County.

In its nearly 50 years of operation, the Williamsburg Treatment Plant has removed trillions of pounds of pollutants, greatly improving water quality in the James River.

Water quality regulations have changed significantly since the Williamsburg Treatment Plant opened, becoming more stringent and requiring more complex treatment processes, requirements that were unimaginable in 1971. Virginia regulators have also discovered the regional groundwater aquifer can no longer support the growing demand of Eastern Virginians due to nearly a century of significant and sustained water withdrawals.

These factors have led HRSD to pursue new, advanced water treatment facilities, requiring additional land adjacent to the Williamsburg Treatment Plant. The new facilities are designed to reduce the amount of nutrients discharged into the Chesapeake Bay while providing a sustainable supply of drinking water to recharge and restore the overdrawn Potomac aquifer.

The technologies used to turn wastewater into valuable drinking water are not new; they have existed for decades and are successfully deployed in communities across the country and throughout the world.

HRSD has a responsibility to protect its existing public investment and plan for the future. Acquiring the entire parcel surrounding the current plant property ensures an adequate buffer, provides full access to existing connected infrastructure (pipes, power, roads and river outfall) and minimizes the risk of incompatible land use immediately adjacent to its facilities.

HRSD’s plans include preservation of a significant forested buffer on the eastern side of the property, adding another 500 feet to the existing half-mile of forested buffer between HRSD’s facilities and the historic Carter’s Grove Plantation House.

While future regulatory requirements are uncertain, HRSD will likely be required to add or upgrade treatment processes in Williamsburg to meet new requirements in the coming years. Preparing for that future is exercising responsible management fully aligned with HRSD’s vision that future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean.

Lynch is vice-chair of the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette
48°