The State Water Control Board today approved another consent order with Henrico County that fails to solve chronic water pollution violations by its sewage treatment plant and sewage collection system.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), James River Association (JRA), and the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) filed a lawsuit Dec. 6 because of the long history of sewage overflows and effluent limitation violations by the County coupled with inadequate enforcement orders by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). There have been decades of water pollution violations by Henrico County’s sewage treatment plant and sewage collection system, including the release of more than 66 million gallons of raw sewage into the James River in the last five years alone.
The groups requested that the Board defer its consideration of the consent order pending the resolution of additional negotiations between CBF, JRA, EIP, and the County, but the Board went ahead and approved the consent order.
Following that action, CBF Virginia Executive Director Peggy Sanner issued this statement:
“Raw, untreated sewage does not belong in the James River, where it damages aquatic life and threatens human health. The current consent order is no different than the previous ones–it includes a list of projects that the County must implement and the repair and replacement of existing equipment, rather than creating a comprehensive plan with firm deadlines for the County to meet in order to bring the collection system and the plant into compliance for the long-term.
“The consent order also includes an overly generous timetable for completing a limited number of projects that will not ultimately resolve the system’s issues, fails to include any type of public notice of sewage overflows, and lacks considerations of environmental justice–requiring fewer projects in environmental justice communities and relegating many of them to the end of the queue.
“For decades, the Commonwealth has failed to do its job. This consent order is just more of the same, which is why CBF and its partners have filed suit to achieve a comprehensive, permanent solution.”
Jamie Brunkow, Senior Advocacy Manager and James Riverkeeper with the James River Association, said:
“For more than 30 years local streams have been burdened by pollution due to failing sewage infrastructure across Henrico County. Releases of sewage have occurred without public notice, into streams that flow through neighborhoods, backyards and ultimately to the James River. These violations of the Clean Water Act have persisted for decades, showing the inadequacy of four separate Consent Orders that were supposed to protect water quality and ensure waterways are safe for swimming and fishing. The status quo is not enough to end these pollution violations.”
“We need a forward-looking solution in place that fully addresses the chronic failures at Henrico’s wastewater treatment plant and within the County’s sewer collection system. We have taken legal action to ensure Henrico develops a comprehensive plan that ends decades of sanitary sewer overflows, requires pollution controls at the Henrico wastewater treatment plant, and sets a realistic timeframe to implement these critical actions. A much higher bar must be set for Henrico County to meet this challenge – clean water depends on it.”
Sylvia Lam, Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, said:
“Enough is enough–66 million gallons of raw sewage pouring into the James River over the last five years is proof that another toothless consent order with Henrico County is simply not acceptable. We’ve already seen four similar weak agreements between Virginia and Henrico County fail to prevent numerous pollution violations and sewage overflows that are creating a public health hazard in this historic river. What we need is not more of the same, but a real plan for upgrading this failing sewage system and a firm, enforceable deadline for halting the flow of untreated human waste into the river.”
“The consent order approved by the Commonwealth today also falls short because it fails to require the county to issue public notices after sewage overflow events. This omission needlessly puts the health of Henrico residents and other users of the James River and its tributary creeks and streams at risk because they will not be aware that the waters they are swimming, wading, and fishing in have just been contaminated with raw sewage.”
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