Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia agrees to settle clean water violations

Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD), based in Virginia Beach, has agreed to pay a $900,000 civil penalty and to take corrective actions to reduce alleged sanitary sewer overflows from its collection system and nine sewage treatment plants that have polluted the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, the Justice Department, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Commonwealth of Virginia announced.

Under a settlement filed in federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, HRSD is required to collect data, conduct computer modeling, and, working with the municipalities that it serves, develop a regional plan to ensure that the HRSD sewer system has adequate capacity to handle flows from severe storms and to prevent overflows of sewage. Subsequently, HRSD must implement the regional plan. Since HRSD has not identified the projects pending completion of the plan, the cost of that effort is currently unknown although it is expected to cost millions of dollars.

The settlement also requires HRSD to make major upgrades and improvements to the sewer system infrastructure over the next eight years. These upgrades are estimated to cost at least $140 million. The settlement requires that HRSD evaluate, replace, rehabilitate, or upgrade pipes, pump stations and other infrastructure where inspections and screenings show a material risk of failure. HRSD also must submit and implement a plan to effectively manage, operate and maintain the sanitary sewer system to help prevent future sanitary sewer overflows.

In a joint complaint filed by the United States and Virginia, the governments alleged that HRSD illegally discharged nine million gallons of untreated sewage and other wastes from its sewer system and sewage treatment plants into various bodies of water including the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. These discharges allegedly occurred on at least 249 occasions since 2003 and were not authorized under existing wastewater discharge permits. In addition, HRSD allegedly caused or contributed to at least 118 municipal overflows of sewage and other pollutants that occurred from the sewer systems of the municipalities during times when flows into the HRSD sewer system exceeded its capacity and the sewage and other wastes backed up and overflowed from manholes and other locations in the municipalities. The municipalities did not report the volume for most of the 118 violations but it is believed to be substantial.

HRSD treats wastewater for 17 counties and cities in Virginia and serves 1.6 million people. HRSD has the capacity to treat up to 231 million gallons of wastewater per day and includes 13 sewage treatment plants, 81 pumping stations, and over 500 miles of pipes.