HRSD: Wastewater spill into James River is under control, 29M gallons spilled or diverted

Newport News

Crews work after wastewater line breaks on 16th Street in Newport News Jan. 4, 2021. (WAVY photo/Brett Hall)

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — About three days after a pipe failed along 16th Street in Newport News — discharging 29 million gallons of untreated wastewater –Hampton Roads Sanitation District officials say the break has been brought under control.

HRSD announced preliminary repairs to the failed 36-inch pipe had been made Thursday morning, meaning untreated wastewater was no longer being discharged into the James River.

On Monday night hours after the pipe broke, HRSD told 10 On Your Side that discharging some of the wastewater from the broken line into nearby waterways was an unfortunate, but necessary, measure.

Crews needed to conduct “controlled releases” further up the system to stop the waste from flowing to the broken pipe.

“The high volume carried by the 36-inch pipe prevented a pump and haul operation at this site, and existing infrastructure did not allow for the diversion of wastewater to another treatment plant,” HRSD wrote in Thursday’s news release.

Overall, about 29 million gallons of wastewater were lost or diverted as a result of the failure, HRSD said.

Crews are now working to test other parts of the existing pipe to make sure it can handle the pressures needed for full operation.

More work will need to be done to bypass and replace other parts of the pipe to reduce the possibility of another failure.

“This bypass work could potentially require another short-term discharge or series of discharges into the James River to allow for replacement of any additional sections of pipe that may be needed,” HRSD said Thursday.

The pipe that failed is part of a $16-million capital improvement project that had already been started by HRSD. The project covers a two-mile stretch of infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the line — which was installed in 1944 — failed before it could be replaced.

While the discharge of wastewater into the James River was stopped as of Thursday, an emergency shellfish harvesting closure was still in effect from the Virginia Department of Health.

The closure covers parts of the James River and its tributaries in Newport News, Suffolk and Isle of Wight County. The closure will run from Jan. 5 to 25, unless water testing shows bacteria levels are in the safe zone sooner.

VDH shellfish harvesting ban area after wastewater line break on 16th Street in Newport News.

The HRSD Technical Services Division will continue to work with the state health department to sample and test the waterways impacted by the spill.

A signed detour will also be in place as crews continue “final restoration” of the construction site.

HRSD said residents should expect extensive construction work and a long-term lane closure as repair work moves forward.

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