Derecho dump: Lynchburg's raw sewage soils the James
When the Friday night storm swept across Virginia, houses and businesses weren't the only places where power was knocked out. In Lynchburg, the public sewage treatment station was powerless for nearly 24 hours and as a result, dumped 2.5 million gallons of untreated wastewater into the James River by Saturday afternoon. Millions more gallons of only partially treated wastewater entered the river before power was fully restored Sunday afternoon.
While the director of Lynchburg's water resources cautioned area residents not to swim in the River for several days, Scottsville residents and business owners received no such warning even as they worry about the effect the dumping might have on the James as it passes through Albemarle County, about 50 miles downstream of the Hill City.
"Seriously, Lynchburg, why would a sewage treatment plant be designed to dump raw sewage into the river in a power outage?" wondered Esmont resident Peter Griesar in a Facebook post. "Some places," he adds, "rely on the river to be safe and beautiful for tourists."
"It seems like there should be something else in place, a reservoir or pond or something," says Bebe Williams, publisher of the Scottsville Weekly newspaper, worrying about the dumping's effect on Fourth of July festivities. "I think it's probably reached here by now," he says.
The operators of James River Reeling and Rafting worried that the Lynchburg dumping could have a serious impact on their popular tubing operation but say they've received no warning or instruction from the Health Department to shut down.
"We haven't heard anything," says a concerned Kevin Denby, who purchased the business five years ago and says he's never had to shut down as a result of river pollution.
"It's not an unusual situation," says Health Department spokesperson Michelle Stoll, noting that livestock and urban runoff always carry contaminants into rivers after heavy rainfalls.
Scottsville area rivergoers can swim as usual, according to Tim Mitchell, director of Lynchburg's water resource management department, noting that while the dumped wastewater hadn't been treated to remove solids, it had been disinfected with chlorine.
"The river has a natural capability of removing it and cleaning it up," says Mitchell, noting that he's been working with the DEQ and the Department of Health to ensure public safety and claiming the only impact he witnessed was discoloration along a bank near the plant and two dead fish: a carp and a catfish.
"We think it's minimal impact to the river," says Mitchell. "It shouldn't affect anything more than a mile or two from the plant."