Peninsula sewage diversion into James River stopped for time being, but residents worry about environment

Health

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Untreated wastewater is no longer flowing directly into the James River in a Hampton neighborhood, but officials say additional discharges are possible.

The Hampton Roads Sanitation District says 29 million gallons of untreated wastewater had to be diverted or were lost after a major pipe failed earlier this week. It was rerouted to a pump station on Chesapeake Avenue in Hampton.

HRSD connected an above-ground line at the pump station that routed the sewage right into the James River.

“It’s absolutely a last resort and there was no other option,” said HRSD spokesperson Leila Rice, citing the volume of wastewater involved. The pipe that failed was already part of a capital improvement project to replace two miles of 36-inch pipe that date back to the 1940s.

Larry McKnight lives on Chesapeake Avenue near where the sewage flowed into the James.

“We kayak out here, we fish, we swim, we walk the beach,” McKnight said.

He’s also concerned about the potential impact of the discharge on wildlife.

“The eagles, the hawks, the dolphins swim up in here – and I don’t know the impact on those.”

However, more work and testing is needed on other parts of the pipe to make sure it can handle full operation in the interim. The bypass work to replace other parts of pipe could require other short-term discharges of the water into the river.

“It’s tenuous,” Rice said about the status of the old pipe that needs to be replaced.

“That project has had to be expedited. [The pipe] isn’t as good as we had hoped, it’s not obviously going to hold and we’re concerned about that,” Rice said.

Rice say the new bypass will be above ground to get it into place more quickly.

The Virginia Department of Health has banned shellfish harvesting in the area all the way up to the James River Bridge, shore to shore. That ban is scheduled to last until Jan. 25.

VDH advises anyone exposed to the waters of the James in that area should wash thoroughly until further notice.


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