Virginia General Assembly slashes sewer redevelopment budget

The James River system is over 100 years old. The city has been improving the system since the 1970s. Illustration by Liv Weatherford.

Hisham Vohra, Contributing Writer

Ella VanGrundy, Contributing Writer

Claire Harris, Contributing Writer

People could be seen swimming in the streets when Richmond was hit with over 1.6 inches of rain in the span of three hours in September 2021.

These floods are the result of Richmond’s aging sewer system, a cause Gov. Youngkin proposed the state allocate $100 million to in his budget speech last December.

However, the Virginia General Assembly’s recently passed budget did not include the $100 million that was supposed to go towards the redevelopment plan, according to Virginia’s Legislative Information System. 

Jeremy Hoffman is the director of climate justice and impact at Groundwork USA, a “network of local organizations devoted to transforming the natural and built environment of low-resource communities,” the website states.

Hoffman said Richmond has been investing in improvements for the sewer system since the 1970s. In the past few years, huge projects have improved the current system’s ability to minimize combined sewer overflowing, or CSOs.

“These events [CSOs] discharge a mix of human waste, industrial waste, sediments, oil and grease from cars on roads, dust and sediment, trash and other things directly into the James River,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said that the city’s sewer system is able to treat about 90% of stormwater, despite the problems CSOs bring. He believes there is room to be positive while still working to improve the land and water of our community. 

“I like to say it’s important to celebrate our successes while continuing to demand more progress, more funding, and more inclusion in the processes that distribute resources to environmental actions,” Hoffman said.

Local, state and interstate policies, such as city wide climate adaptation plans, the Virginia Clean Energy Act and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, are also positive markers on the progress of environmental policy, Hoffman said.

Elizabeth Bausas, a Richmond resident, stated that she is disgusted with the idea that the river would overflow with sewage.

“The James River is overflowing with sewage water and that is disgusting due to the fact it can cause illness and a rise of disease due to people’s feces, ” Bausas said.

Another Richmond resident Thienthanh Nguyen is concerned about the decrease in funding to prevent flooding. 

“[I’m] grossed out, I’m glad that I don’t swim in it [the river],” Nguyen said.

Local Taylor Hodge has never swam in or been to the river but was unsettled by the idea of the river flooding when informed about the budget cut, she said.

“I am outraged, livid, gobsmacked because it’s going to overflow and there’s going to be poop water everywhere,” Hodge said.

Audience Editor Andrew Kerley contributed to this article.

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