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Nelson County Earth Day Celebration Showcases Impacts of Wastewater Treatment Projects on Bay Health

Barbara Bowen
Release Date

RICHMOND, Va., April 21, 2023 – Americans have been celebrating Earth Day for more than 50 years with at least a billion people taking action to change human behavior and environmental policy. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development has been a part of that team effort, working to bring clean, affordable water to rural communities and to protect our planet in the process.

Virginia Rural Development (RD) partners with localities across the commonwealth to preserve public health and reduce environmental impacts of wastewater treatment. The agency has invested more than $250 million in 83 such projects since 2010. This year, we’re focusing on two long-standing partners who have made major commitments to upgrading facilities for the good of humans, wildlife and aquatic ecosystems.

USDA RD’s relationship with the Nelson County Service Authority (NCSA) dates back nearly 30 years with $16 million in total financial assistance provided for various projects. The Schuyler Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of four the authority owns and operates within the county. USDA awarded a $30,000 Special Evaluation Assistance for Rural Communities and Households (SEARCH) grant in 2019 to fund a preliminary engineering and environmental report outlining actions needed to address existing health and sanitation issues. Subsequent loans and grants brought total project funding up to $5.2 million.

Construction began in 2022 and was divided into three phases to correct those deficiencies and bring the system into compliance with Chesapeake Bay nutrient reduction requirements. The first two focused on rehabilitation of a combined 12,760 linear feet of gravity sewer in the Western and Ivy Creek collection systems to reduce infiltration/inflow. The final phase involved replacement of the existing trickling filter treatment plant with an extended air-activated sludge package designed to keep the facility within future ammonia removal limits. 

One year later, USDA RD and NCSA invited partners and the public to join them at the Schuyler Community Center (Walton’s Mountain Museum) to dedicate an upgraded facility that houses a safer and more efficient collection system for the 44 customers in this small community. USDA RD Virginia State Director Perry Hickman joined District Director Sandy Adams (Rep. Bob Good, VA-05), State Senator R. Creigh Deeds, NCSA Chair Robert McSwain and Board of Supervisors Chair Jesse Rutherford for the April 20 program to highlight how infrastructure improvements impact to the health and vitality of rural Virginia.  

“The James River forms the southeastern border of Nelson County and is one of four major waterways that drain directly into the Chesapeake Bay, so the stakes are high when it comes to keeping sanitation systems in peak operating condition,” said Hickman. “We’re pleased to work hand in hand with dedicated partners like NCSA to replace aging equipment at the end of its service life to help ensure that state landmarks like the James River and Chesapeake Bay continue to provide recreational and economic opportunities for future generations.”

On the Eastern Shore of Virginia, the town of Exmore is just embarking on an upgrade of the town's wastewater treatment and collection systems with assistance from USDA RD.  The existing steel facility is located inside a pre-engineered metal building, which is not insulated or heated. Though it was constructed in 2006, the plant has rapidly aged due to the corrosive coastal environment. Corresponding operational issues include an inability to meet the permitted discharge limits, posing a health threat to residents. 

The $9.5 million in USDA RD loans and grants will be used to decommission the existing facility and construct a new, low-pressure collection system with individual grinder pumps and approximately 82,300 linear feet of piping to convey wastewater to a new Hampton Roads Sanitary District regional pump station. Nearly all drinking water on the Eastern Shore of Virginia comes from an aquifer system, so improvements like these are critical to help ensure that pollutants don’t seep out of pipes and into the ground.  

Projects like these are great examples of collaboration to protect environmental, cultural and recreational resources for improved quality of life in rural communities. Wastewater treatment is one piece of the puzzle in conserving the Chesapeake and restoring key natural resources and functions for future generations. USDA RD is proud to join the many partner organizations and agencies that are working hard to celebrate and conserve this national treasure.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, Tribal and high-poverty areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov