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."


what a load of s#%t

Smell the river downstream of the Rivanna dam, it has stunk of filthy sewage and fertilizer runoff for years. A watershed is supposed to be a protected valuable resource.
The developers of Cville have found a way to destroy what used to be clean water thirty years ago.

Uriday I pass ova da Rivanna on 64 an start to think I musta farted an roll my window daown - den it hit me... dats jus da funk from da riva. Got me feel like graownhog day mane!

Everyone is always ranting on raw sewage.

Well guess what, I took a kettle and cooked some up. It tasted worse.

So 12 people have died as a result of this storm and Peter Greiser gets his panties in a wad because of spilled sewage... that VDH says dissipates over a 5 - 10 mile stretch of waterway?
I wonder if Peter has any idea how much 2.5 m gallons over 24 hours is relative to the flow of the James? I'd trade the James in downtown Lynchburg for the Rivanna- heck, does the water around the Woolen Mills area ever look clean and clear?

Hello Friend,
Considering how important the river is to the community in which I live, I raised the question as to what the impact of this dump would be. Now that the authorities have spoken the community is happy all is well.

The only crap that's a problem now is that which comes out of your mouth.


Tomr just got blasted mane

It sound as if these officials are guessing about things. Has anyone actually tested the water?

Peter- thanks for acknowledging your lack of understanding. next time you should consider the facts before spouting off. to show your true concern for the river, why don't address practical poster's question and take a few gulps of river water- if there is an issue with fecal coliform,
you can report to the hook... we could call it field research.

2.5 million gallons of sewage got dumped into the river. An anonymous, illiterate guy calling himself tomr says it's ok though. Who would dare question an authority like him?

Why do we destroy that which sustains us?

CC- its a blog... we are all anonymous. Yes, you got me... I'm illiterate, but I do have a calculator handy. Chlorinated sewage that represents three tenths of a percent of the flow of the James (609 million gallons/day as of this morning) is a small problem compared to what has happened over the last week. It seems like there is more concern for this issue than there is for the people in the region who have really been through a difficult situation. For you it might be a big issue, but I don't need to waste time telling you facts that are really easy to find. If this was a big deal, there would be fines coming down from the DEQ, so we'll just wait to see who is right.

tomr, truly we do have clean rivers here in the county of Albemarle and I see your point of this being such a little "concern" there is a bigger one that has been looming for quite a while - safe, clean drinking water. It appears this treatment plant should have some other way of dealing with the issues when power is out.

As for the rivers and plants in the city - well, that is on them entirely. I know first hand that our rivers in Albemarle are clean - through the study of the insects which live in them. In the city, it is questionable.

tomr sez: "It seems like there is more concern for this issue than there is for the people in the region who have really been through a difficult situation."

@tomr-- Are you hypothesizing that Peter Griesar isn't concerned about the people harmed by the storm simply because he expressed concern about millions of gallons of sewage being dumped in the river? That's kind of a stretch, don't you think? It's entirely possible that Mr Griesar hasn't had power himself during this time. Perhaps he even knows one of the people killed. It's a small community, so it's possible. Your assumptions are ludicrous. Griesar raises a very valid point. Why does a sewage treatment plant dump after an outage? Are there preventative measures that could be used? Does ours do that? If not, then why? All good questions that deserve answers.

There are many areas around the world who would consider our little storm and its 12 deaths to be a minor concern compared to what they are going through. In light of that, your tragedy-trumping deaths vs sewage argument is entirely misplaced.

Sabbath Lily-yes, you guessed my hypothisis. The James is much more part of the fabric of Lynchburg than it is of Albemarle. This topic can be flogged on for days, but it doesn't make any difference, and judging by the number of comments, there isn't much concern for the spill. Regarding Cville Native, this incident is not a normal occurance; clean water is important to everyone, and since I reside in Lynchburg and use the river for both recreation and for drinking water at times, I don't mind offering a counterpoint to the casual reader who posts a condescending comment on facebook. We here in Lynchburg don't have to deal with the water shortages that have been seen in the Cville area thanks in part to the James.

"Not much concern for the spill", If I had my way, the management of that facility would be locked up for assaulting the environment.

That's why folks like you never get your way!

tomr, your comments here have been condescending...and as pointed out by several intelligent people here, not intelligent. I dare say this, considering the high tax bracket that Albemarle and Charlottesville have vs. Lynchburg you may have to share your water supply and may be put on rations in the future. After all, from observances of power restorations - it is fairly clear that those restored more quickly are of the higher tax brackets. Is it fair? Perhaps not.

I would rather conserve clean water here in this area than have an abundance of water filled with raw sewage...

cville native- consider checking usgs data. my intelligence is not an issue, but if you feel that questioning my intelligence bolsters your argument, so be it. The power issue has nothing to do with tax brackets; that just sounds like typical Charlottesville arrogance. Lynchburg seems to do fine economically, and considering Lynchburg is a good bit larger than Charlottesville in both population and land mass, the number of outages isn't surprising considering the damage certain sections of the city has seen.
So how about pointing out where I've gone astray. Its not like I wrote a complaint about the growing number of homeless and vagrants hanging around the downtown mall. I bet it bothers you when you think how those poor folks affect Charlottesville's high tax brackets. I'd pull up those benches down there....